By Donna Barr
Bob Bowlby looked like just a sweet old guy in a string tie with a cane, who wouldn’t say “boo” to a butterfly.
But during the memorial in honor of his life at the Sekiu Community Center, Saturday, Aug. 23, a building full of family and friends and a feast of potluck food from the Strait communities, the truth came out. Family members, from as far away as Hawaii, stood up, and, laughing and crying, remembered and shared tales of an uninhibited life.
Bob’s wife of 61 years, June Bowlby, demonstrated the musical world she’d shared with him, sitting down to the community upright piano and playing “Memories” and “Wonderful One.” A slideshow included songs and tunes from recordings they’d made together. Stories would come out of the days when she and Bob filled the Community Center with hot tunes for dances in the 1940s.
Grandsons Enoch and Annan Bowlby played the Maori farewell song, “Now Is the Hour,” accompanying themselves on the ukelele and a harmonica.
John Burdick, of West End Youth and Community Club, announced that gifts were being accepted for the Concert Piano Memorial Fund, to buy a baby grand piano in Bob’s name for the Community Center.
Ending the program, Enoch Bowlby quietly played Israel Kamakawiwoole’s ukelele version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” The audience began to hum softly along with him and finally joined in.
Bob was remembered as a smart, imaginative, funny guy who could blast a saxophone riff, rivet a room — or a campfire — with a fully acted, detail-dripping story or take a grandchild skinny-dipping. His favorite phrase — as repeated full-voiced by the whole crowd at the memorial – was “There it is.”
The memorial film featured Bob skatting away to a boogie-woogie tune that, in the 1930s, must have horrified the older generation. He was the kind of musician who would have been on the edge of popular music, be it waltzing, jazzing rocking or rapping if it had sung to his musical heart. He was fearless.
Bob contributed to the Strait Tales literature project. He pried $100,000 out of Rayonier for the contribution to the Friends of the Clallam Bay Library, putting the fund over the top for the expansion and upgrade of the building. There it is, Bob.
Bob loved to give others joy. Eddie Bowlby, wife of Paul, remembered when Bob called her and told her to bring over the kids, because Grandpa had a surprise for them. It turned out to be a huge pile of dried maple leaves Bob had raked together in his yard. From then on, the kids made a date every autumn with that leaf pile, diving and hiding in it to their hearts’ content.
Bob liked to listen to Art Bell until the wee hours and the family joked that’s why they happily all believe in aliens, Bigfoot and Nessie.
Bob wasn’t against a practical joke, but sometimes they backfired, as another friend remembered their college trip to Washington State University, in a 1932 Model B Ford. “Bob put a bomb in it,” he said. But Bob could fix anything mechanical and he did manage to get it fixed and them on their way — after three days.
Memories of the trip delays didn’t impinge on Bob’s urge to try anything new and fun. Bungee-jumping with a grandson would have been more successful if the rope had been the right length — but at least there was a river under that bridge and nobody had to be carried home. The grandson claimed Bob threw him off the bridge.
Bob was born in the house across from the Clallam Bay School and he shared that knowledge with grandson Steve, who recently had moved into the house. Steve had just taken a bite of a hot dog when Grandpa said, “I was born right there on the kitchen table.” Steve put the hot dog down.
Bob was still full of surprises, as demonstrated when Bob’s oldest nephew, Gary Bowlby, related his memories.
“Bob was pretty risky,” he said. “And pretty risque.” Describing a skinny-dipping trip with Bob, Gary borrowed his timing to get a gasp and a howl from the people who loved him: “And in those days Bob had red hair.”
From the crowd rose the v
oice of June Bowlby: “That’s the first time I heard the nudist story!”
Bob didn’t let advancing age slow him down. Asked why he was still mowing his lawn when he needed a cane to walk, Bob said, “I do it so I can keep doing it.”
He kept doing it all his life, and the memories of the love and craziness will keep doing it for so many in the Strait of Juan de Fuca communities for decades to come. There it is.