Archived Story

Sometimes the good die young

Published 7:47pm Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I remember the first time I met Bob Hunt, which happened shortly after I began my new job here at The Outlook.

My reception here was warm, and everyone made me feel welcome.

But something about Mr. Bob was familiar, hitting me like a case of déjà vu.

He was salty and quick-witted, and it only took a few meetings before Wednesday afternoons became a highlight of the week.

Mr. Bob would come in the front door, his hands full of bags loaded with quarters from our newspaper racks. His wispy, grey hair was usually covered up by a khaki colored bucket hat, emblazoned with a big crimson “A.”

When the bags were unloaded, he would make his way to my desk, and plop down in my spare chair, usually on top of whatever newspapers and clutter that had collected on it during the week.

It was time for the weekly trivia question.

Sometimes we would know it; most of the time we wouldn’t. It would usually devolve into my sports editor and I yelling out random answers – answers so ridiculous that it was painfully obvious how incorrect they are.

“What baseball player …” Bob would start.

“Bear Bryant!” J.D. would chime in.

“Jimmy Carter!” I interjected.

Mr. Bob would let out a disapproving but jovial grin, his eyes emanating a slight smile.

J.D. would find a way to distract him, and I would Google the answer.

Mr. Bob always saw through this ploy.

“You looked that up!” he’d rasp.

I think Bob enjoyed it more when he stumped us.

It was a matter of time before our Wednesday afternoons became more than just trivia. Sometimes it was friendly ribbing over his allegiance to the University of Alabama or a debate about a national news item.

Other times we’d start with a trivia question and segue into a story from Mr. Bob’s past. I only got to share a few of them in my front-page piece on Hunt’s life.

It would take pages to document all the tales we heard. The newsroom would stop what they were doing, and for a moment, we’d sit wide-eyed and full of anticipation as to where the story would lead.

Mr. Bob was a newsroom legend. And though there was nothing rational about it, I guess it never really crossed my mind that one day I might have to pen a memorial story on him. He was Mr. Bob – invincible and maybe too stubborn to ever leave this Earth.

I remember the day this came crashing down, the day I sat with Mr. Bob on the back of his truck as he took a slow drag of his cigarette, describing what sounded like a serious medical concern so matter-of-factly.

“Only the good die young, and I’m not going anywhere,” he told me, with and ear to ear grin.

Over the coming months, I heard Mr. Bob say he might not be able to participate in the farmer’s market.

Knowing what his tomatoes meant to him, the thought was more than I can bear.

I offered to walk over one day (he lived right across the street) if he ever wanted some extra help. Mr. Bob agreed.

I learned a little about farming, cleaning tomato cages and asking questions when I could. Mr. Bob would always explain why he was doing something instead of simply doing it. Despite a terribly wet season, we laid the groundwork for what was the last year of Mr. Bob’s heirloom tomatoes.

I guess in my mind it wasn’t real until I got the phone call from work.

If we just got through this season, Mr. Bob would be fine again and next year, we wouldn’t have to limit what we planted.

But sometimes the good do die young.

Nelson is managing editor for The Outlook.