1928 – 2022
Bob Wistort died suddenly in March, ending a long and eventful life.
Bob was born when the world was young.
Model T’s were the Tesla of the day. Radio reigned. Newspapers had news. And the brightest minds had the biggest slide rules.
Bob turned 1 1/2 a week and a half after the crash of ’29.
In the depression, Bob took ‘shop class’ at the school down the block, and they couldn’t get rid of him.
Bob was a certified draftsman before he was a teenager and a licensed surveyor before he started college.
Bob took a ton of courses in college, and …. aced about half of them.
Bob ‘did construction’ during summers with the Bureau of Reclamation in the Rockies. He always said he learned a lot about life in those years, but he never really spelled it out for me.
Bob started off at Pace Associates in Chicago right out of college. With a job and an office, it didn’t take long before his routine expanded to a favorite lunch spot, a favorite waitress, and three kids. Bob was my father.
Too soon, his wife Joan died, and Bob couldn’t do it alone. Bob’s mom Pauline left her own life behind, moved in, and saved the day. Thanks, gram.
Bob went ‘back to work’ and met and married Alice – Mom.
They joined the Clay Pipers – a gold rush themed theatre troupe up in them thar’ hills. Mom sang and danced, and Dad ran the bar, built the bunkhouse, and planted coins in the couch cushions. The kids ran around in packs and made our own fun.
Bob was apparently a pretty good engineer.
He covered a lot of ground, working on pipe fabrication, heavy construction, plant and job site supervision, and piping and HVAC design for pharmaceuticals, refineries, clean rooms, food processing, geothermal, hospitals, secret government projects and, yes, our own home.
Bob was Chief Mechanical everywhere he went, and he was proud that he never got sued.
It’s pretty impressive, and I bet there’s a story or 2 in there somewhere.
But as a kid, I had no idea what Bob did, and he wasn’t telling. When Bob brought work home, it was in the form of ‘specs.’ Reams of double-spaced, typewritten pages with no pictures.
And when I tried to help him mark them up, he put a lock on the door.
Dad lived in overdrive. Like Bob on the job.
Anything Dad was interested in, Dad did.
Dad was a shop rat all his life. There was nothing he couldn’t build.
He was running power tools in his dad’s shop when he was 8, and
he was running power tools in his own shop when he was 93.
And he only hurt himself once.
We never lived in a home that Dad didn’t re-model. Dad wasn’t shy: He’d work Bob’s rolodex and, with a wink and a handshake, our bathrooms always had the nicest toilets money could buy.
Dad rode dirt bikes on mountain roads and carted them around in a submarine-yellow trailer decorated with psychedelic daisy decals. “Nobody’s going to steal this baby,” he’d say.
For years, Dad baked his own bread. Until he decided he liked cookies more.
Dad’s Apple I was his 3rd personal computer. He always had a good one on his desk until a few years ago, when they just got too damned confusing.
Dad signed up.
He joined the woodworkers club. The woodturners club. Lapidary society. Hemlock society. Jewelry club. Flight club. Iron Horsemen. SHHH. And a dozen more.
Bob belonged to ASME and ASHRAE. He ran the show at ASPE.
You name it, he joined it, always seeking out like-minded souls.
Dad was a Master Mason for 72 years. I don’t even know what that is, but he took it very seriously. I pestered him for years to show me the ‘secret handshake,’ but he wouldn’t do it.
Dad was a Toastmaster. Back in the ’70’s, a vote loomed at the local chapter about whether they should allow female members. Dad was for it. Mom was not.
Dad was on the board of a foundation charged with finding and funding new ways to help the plumbing industry. He’d always felt that there had to be a better way to know the ‘right’ number of toilets to design into a large public venue, and he wanted me to apply for funds. In our proposal, we referred to the Bay Area Research Foundation using its acronym, and the Foundation voted to keep looking.
Dad learned to fly, and then he learned aerial acrobatics. He’d turn heads in stalled traffic, waving a toy plane through the air, practicing when to hit the rudder and when to hit the flaps. He bought a canvas covered tail dragger and flew it all over the West. Upside down.
Bob used to wear business attire, and when we rafted down the grand canyon, he packed a tie. He liked looking good, and he liked the way he looked in loud shirts.
You couldn’t miss Dad in a crowd.
When Dad retired, he dialed it back a notch and joined the facilities and exhibits team at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. He volunteered for 10 years, fending off saltwater corrosion on the outside and herds of 10 year olds on the inside.
Dad saw the world close up. When steam engines were his hobby du jour, he took a steam train to the coal-fired foundries in Deng China. With his third wife Jackie, he travelled the world and ate things I don’t even want to think about. He never set foot in Greenland.
And he did it all single-handedly. Dad only had one arm.
When Dad finally downsized, he made sure he had some space to put some tools. And if anyone wanted to help him putter in the shop, then he’d be glad to show you how it’s done.
Dad had credentials out the wazoo.
Certified this, Licensed that, Professional something, Member of –. He had a whole pile of dusty awards on a shelf. But the one he kept on his wall was his surveyor’s license, from high school.
Every other surface was full of pictures and post-its, filled with things he’d done and things he still wanted to do.
What a guy, huh?
They say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but
I hope I fell in a windstorm and rolled a bit before I dug in,
Because Dad could have been a better man.
He was the loud uncle at Thanksgiving.
He was the irate constituent.
He counted his change.
And he wouldn’t budge an inch.
Sometimes, it was hard to see ‘the man’ in ‘the man as a whole.’
And I bet there’s a story or 4 in there, too.
If you cut up the gnarliest branch from the deadest tree – and if you’re lucky – you’ll find a burl. And wood burls make the best, beautiful-est wooden bowls, with grain that goes every which way. Bob was gnarly on the outside, and burly on the inside. Always against the grain.
I was lucky
Bob Wistort out-lived his first wife, Joan, his second wife Alice, his eldest son Mark, half a dozen pups, and pretty much everyone he ever worked or played with. He is survived by his wife Jackie, his kids Reid and Wendy, and three grand kids.
Bob left an easter egg.
It wasn’t for me, but I found it on the day before Good Friday.
And let me tell you: It was a good one.
The man was an evil genius.