To be downright honest, I never expected to miss him this much. And if the deeper truth be told, perhaps what gets to me isn’t just the loss of a singular man, though great and admirable he was.
Maybe it’s the combined losses of those three who sat together on the church pew in the third row. Perhaps that’s what makes the grief so profound and long-lasting.
Mr. Gene Bobo was special. There’s no denying or disputing that. He was a courtly Southern gentleman, his manners impeccable and his vocabulary belonging to a genteel past where people used worthy words and eschewed pointless ones like “uh”, “you know” and “like.”
“I commend you on such a magnanimous choice,” he said once over something I had done that won his approval. “My heart brims with admiration whenever I witness someone — such as yourself — who answers to the siren of a higher calling.”
We became friends by accident. One Sunday, I hurried into church and slid in next to a man named Gary. We bonded instantly and from then on, Gary saved me a seat, saying to anyone who dared to sit by him, “No! I am saving this for my friend.”
Gary had faced tremendous physical challenges since birth. Walking and talking were difficult and managed only through superior effort and determination. Mr. Bobo sat by Gary — until I claimed that place — so I found myself seated between them on a weekly basis. Then Mama joined us. Mr. Bobo would graciously rise from his seat, step into the aisle and whisper, “Someone is anxiously awaiting your arrival. I am delighted that he will not be disappointed this morning.”
I sat next to Gary, Mama sat next to me and Mr. Bobo sat on the end. We all became friends. Good friends. The kind of friends who celebrate with you, mourn with you and pray with you.
Mama died first. Then Gary. Then, most recently, Mr. Bobo just up and died without warning. He was 94, but vibrant when he went to bed that night. He could not be awakened the next morning. I learned of his death when I was in California, reading the local news online. His death was the lead, front-page story. I couldn’t believe it was true. But it was.
Mr. Bobo was a textile pioneer. He co-invented panty hose in the mid-1950s, which was a bit ironic because he was such a gentleman that he still blushed when he said the word. It was too intimate and unseemly for such a dignified gentleman. He shepherded a young Sara Blakely toward her dream of creating a product called Spanx, helping her to locate the necessary knitting mills and introducing her throughout the industry. A noted philanthropist, he used his wealth and good fortune to help many.
Typical of Mr. Bobo, I did not have a clue to such past successes for a few years despite the fact that I spent a good deal of time with him. We dined together often, and after a couple of falls put him in an assisted-living facility, I visited regularly. His eyes pooled with tears the moment he saw me and he would squeeze me so tightly that it hurt.
“You are the daughter that the good Lord never saw fit with which to bless me,” he said often. “You have no idea the extent to which I hold affection for you in my heart.”
I had a surprise for him. I had written about him in my new book, “There’s A Better Day A-Comin.’” I decided to show him the book rather than tell him, but that opportunity now is lost to eternity. I mourn the missed joy over seeing his happiness.
Still, this much I know: Mr. Bobo has found an even better day.
Rich is the best-selling author of “There’s A Better Day A-Comin.’” Go to www.rondarich.com to sign up for her newsletter.