Here’s a truth: you can plan all you want, but sometimes, life just doesn’t deliver what you expect. We certainly learned that this year, when the Christmas we got was very different from the one we wanted.
The boys and Scott and I flew out to upstate New York a few days before Christmas, planning to spend the holiday with Scott’s dad Bob, and Scott’s sisters Terri and Kathy. Ever since Scott’s mom’s death in 2014, Bob’s health had been declining, but he was hanging gamely on. But when we arrived on the 21st – his 84th birthday – he had a bad cold and cough. The next day the doctor recommended that he go to the hospital. He died there early the next morning.
It was not the Christmas we meant to spend. Instead of family time together, doing the classic Moyer Happy Hour – drinks and snacks about 5, one of Bob’s favorite traditions – we met with a funeral home, packed up his apartment, and sifted through the many photos and clippings to figure out how best to capture his life in an obituary.
But as awful as it was, we all agreed that there were blessings there, too. We were all in town when he died, not in various parts of the globe as we usually are. We’d had a chance to see him and celebrate his birthday. And it was a chance to process his life and our loss together, instead of separately.
It’s quite a life, too, by any measure. A native New Yorker – from Glens Falls – he loved the East, and knew a great deal about local history. He and Joan raised their three kids in Oneonta, a small town in Otsego County. Over the years, he became involved in banking, eventually serving as CEO of Wilber National Bank and, later, as director of the New York Federal Reserve Bank. He served on more boards than you could name, donated his time to countless volunteer organizations, and believed passionately in the power of community. He loved Oneonta and being in a place where you know people and they know you.
Bob was also a man of deep principle. I remember Scott telling me years ago that his dad, before retirement, used to get mildly frustrated with some of the federal regulations affecting banking. This was because Bob himself would never do anything remotely unethical, and he tended to assume that other bankers were the same. Regulations are not necessary if everyone has the customers’ best interests at heart, as Bob always did. If only there were more people like him.
Bob was also a military man, a member of the Air Force who also flew Air National Guard missions in the 1960s and 1970s. I remember him telling me about the years he was stationed in France in the 1950s, and how his name – Robert Moyer – was pronounced by the French people he met, with the accents moved from the first to the second syllables. (“Ro-BEAR Moy-YAY.”) I often use his name as an example when I talk about poetic meter with my students, explaining the difference between trochees and iambs.
I wish I’d talked to him more about his time in France. It must have been quite a difference place in the 1950s than the France I knew in the 1990s; I suspect he had some good stories to share, and I regret not asking him. I guess we always think we’ll have more time. I should know better by now.
Bob loved talking, reflecting, thinking. Up until the day he died, his mind was sharp and curious and he was always “noodling,” as he’d say, over some world problem and how to solve it. In the last years of his life, after he lost his beloved wife of 54 years and was dealing with the resulting grief, he settled into the habit of lying in bed at night and reviewing the many blessings and gifts of his life. They were many, and I suspect Joan topped the list. He was crazy about her, as is evident in photos of their early years and their later ones, too.
One of my favorite memories of Bob is when they came out to visit us back in 2008. The two of them went out for a romantic dinner one evening at a restaurant near our house. It’s a place up in the hills, with an impressive view of the Bay Area city lights. After they returned back to our house, I asked if they liked the view.
“Oh, it was beautiful,” said Joan, her face lighting up. “I sat facing the windows.” She talked for a while about how much she had enjoyed the ambiance, the food, the service.
As she spoke, Bob was looking at her with a smile on his face. When she had finished, he said one of the sweetest things I’ve ever heard.
“I just looked at Joan,” he said simply. “That’s my favorite view.”
Three days after Bob’s death, after a day of sorting and organizing and the arrangements that follow a death, we all took a break and watched “The Sound of Music.” I thought not for the first time about the wisdom of the Mother Abbess’s words, when Maria is worried about her feelings for Captain von Trapp. “Maria,” she says, “The love of a man and woman is holy too.”
Bob got that. He showed us the holiness of being a good husband, and good father, and good grandfather.
And for all his many accomplishments in the public sphere, for all the influence he had on his community and on the lives of his clients at the bank, I think his greatest achievements are his three children. And I know my life has been forever changed, and utterly blessed, because Scott had a dad like him.
Thank you, Bob, for everything.