By Ron Feldheim
I lost a friend recently. So did the A.R.E. So did the world. Bob Hardy is gone, passing away in his sleep during the early hours of Valentine’s Day. I am writing this as a collection of personal memories and observations, rather than as a biography. The personal view is the only one I can muster at this time. I hope that the reader who knew him will smile at familiar images, and be reminded of their own experiences with Bob. I hope that the reader who did not know him will also smile, get to know Bob a bit, and understand that they missed out on a special privilege. For all of us, we ought to take to heart the awareness that we can know someone for a very long time, yet not think much about the relationship until it is lost.
I was surprised by the depth of my feelings. Rarely, in my many years, have I felt so bereft. I am feeling deeply the pain of future loss, of all those activities coming up where Bob will not be there to help me keep my balance. I keep having the natural urge to call Bob and discuss this with him. “Hi Bob. Did you hear what happened?” Or “Bob, let’s figure out what we need to do to deal with this new situation.” Or “Bob, let’s find a time when the team can get together to make plans.”
Bob first introduced himself to me as “Bob”. Yet, at his memorial service, I learned that he was “Robert” to his family. I was taken aback that there were two Bobs, Bob and Robert. One of the remarkable characteristics of my friend was the way he treated everyone with equanimity. His name was a palindrome, and so was he. He was the same person coming and going, not one person for you and another for me. Each person was treated equally, whether he knew them for twenty-five years or had just met them. Everybody was faced with his genuine smile, tinged with a secret impishness. He made you smile back, even as you wondered just what he was thinking. Although he had a closet full of high fashion suits and accessories from the boutiques where he worked as an accountant/manager, I usually found Bob comfortably dressed in a plaid shirt hanging out of Bermuda shorts. He was just plain Bob. Some folks have voiced the notion that Bob had planned his exit, being as it was on Valentine’s Day. Bob’s life was certainly about love. He had a sincere love of individuals, of humanity, of causes, of organizations. Symbolically choosing that day makes sense. I disagree with this premise, however. Bob was busy making plans for the coming months. We have the pending Region Management Team meeting. There is the upcoming Gold Coast Annual Retreat. We talked about promoting A Search for God Study Groups, as well as local field programs. Then there is Congress at Virginia Beach, along with the A.R.E. Board meeting. Bob was just getting settled into Board work. He had looked forward for years to the day he could join the Board, waiting until he stopped working before agreeing to run for a seat on the Board. Over the years Bob had been asked several times. He was selected this past summer; he had barely started, studying and planning for the next meeting. Besides, if Bob had planned this, he would have left me written instructions! He was such a Virgo.
My friendship with Bob Hardy dates back to the last century, the last millennium even. For more than twenty-five years, Bob and I often roomed together on road trips and at meetings, at retreats and at Congress. Sometimes we travelled with others in the car, sometimes not. Sometimes I flew and he drove, and we then met at our destination. I credit him with my introduction to listening to audio books in the car. One year we were supposed to drive together to the Region Core Team Meeting in Norcross, I believe it was. Suddenly, he got sick and wasn’t able to go. I do not recall how it came to mind, but I went to my regional public library and checked out an audio book, The Curse of the Pharaohs, by Elizabeth Peters, to keep me company. I think I chose it in part because of the Egyptian reference, plus it was long. I have been a fan of Elizabeth Peters and audio books ever since. Bob, on the other hand, often liked to drive without the radio on. I gave up on bringing CDs or tapes on our trips.
There were multiple outings to Warner Robins, Macon, and Jekyll Island, and once to Knoxville. There were numerous excursions to Gatlinburg, Virginia Beach, and especially to Norcross. Stops along the way included Gainesville, St. Augustine, Tifton, Valdosta, and Myrtle Beach. A constant on our road trips up and down the I-75 corridor was a stop at one of the Magnolia Plantation stores. Bob always wanted to bring gifts of jelly and candy and such to the people he worked with. He was going there before he and I started driving together, so he introduced me to their wonders. I recently discovered Mayhaw Jelly. Mmmmm.
A couple of years ago we were on I-95, with Diane Brecker in her minivan, driving home from a meeting. We didn't see any plantation stores anywhere along the way. We stopped at the town of Darien to ask about them and we were told that they were all on I-75. However, we did see a mockup of a local legendary monster, Altamaha-ha, that was supposed to inhabit the river that ran past the town. We all thought that was pretty cool. As we left town we drove slowly over the bridge that spanned the Altamaha River, hoping for a sighting. Not this time, unfortunately.
On our last trip this past November, heading home on I-75, Bob and I found the first Magnolia Plantation closed for renovation. We watched closely for miles so that we wouldn't miss the remaining location. It happened that I was driving when it came up. I could not move across the lanes to the exit because the way was blocked by semis. I had to talk Bob, who could be a little bit stubborn, into stopping at an Adcock Pecans shop that came up shortly after. Neither of us had ever stopped at an Adcock's. It turned out that they had an even larger selection of jellies than Magnolia Plantation. Bob said that he liked it better. He was no longer buying gifts for all his friends at the stores, since he was now retired, but he still bought a load of goodies. So did I, even more than Bob.
Rooming with Bob on all those trips was a hoot. There was a certain constancy, morning and night. Before bed he would always read, so he'd head back to the room before me. I was often out "taking my midnight walk", or lingering with friends. When I got to the room, if Bob was still awake, we'd get to talking. We often stayed up way too late, talking. We’d talk about the A.R.E. work. We’d talk about politics and the economy. We’d talk about our lives. One would think that after spending a couple of days together in a car that we would run out of things to talk about. That happened, but the silence would not last very long. Bob was quite learned when it came to politics, economics, business, and Edgar Cayce. He read a great deal, and also got a lot of information from radio and television. What really set him apart from someone else, say, me, was that he retained what he learned. He had opinions and often tried to engage me in discussions about this and that. In the morning Bob liked to get up early and I liked to sleep late. He would meditate in the morning, then hopefully (but not always) wake me up on his way out to breakfast. He always wanted to be one of the first to breakfast (and lunch, and dinner!). Then he would tease me about my getting to breakfast so late.
As much of our time together was spent out in the world, some of my favorite memories of Bob are associated with various locales that we visited. For years we held Management Team meetings at Margot Riekers’ vacation chalet in Gatlinburg. Some of the group would stay an extra couple of days. We liked to drive through Smoky Mountains National Park. Bob would act thoroughly bored, but I think he secretly enjoyed getting out into Nature. He never stayed behind at the house, but always came with us. One time, while circling through Cades Cove, traffic came to a standstill. I got out of the car to see what was going on. There was a large flock of wild turkeys that was causing everyone to stop and gawk. I hurried back to the car and exclaimed, “Turkeys!” Bob thought that I was hysterical. For ever after, when I tried to get him to take some time outdoors with me, he would bring up how I made him sit in the car while I went to look at turkeys. Well, traffic wasn’t going anywhere; it wasn’t my fault.
At Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the park, I convinced him not to sit in the parking lot with the ladies we were touring with, but to join me in the climb up to the tower at the top of the trail. As soon as he got out of the car, he started complaining about how bitter cold it was. Then he complained about how steep the trail was. Then he complained about how long the trail was. But he kept pace, nevertheless. We finally reached the tower, and he was done. But I talked him into one last climb up the long spiral ramp to the top of the tower. The wind was howling, it was freezing cold, and there was no sunshine. High up on the ramp we reached the tops of several pine trees. As we watched, they were combing moisture out of the wind. Frost was building up, forming into chunks of ice. When the ice got heavy enough the chunk would fall away to the ground and a new chunk would start. We had seen the pieces of ice at the base of the tower, and now we knew where they came from. Even Bob thought this was pretty neat (but probably not enough to warrant leaving the warmth and comfort of the car).
Our team sponsored three week-long retreats in Bimini, led by Joan Hanley. Bob went on one of them, after much cajoling. There he was in the boat, in the water, slogging through mangroves, walking to the effigy mounds, getting some sun. Alright, Bob! When we got back to our room we could hardly wait to take our turn showering off the mud and putting on dry clothing. Bob went first. While waiting for me, he went out on the porch to read. It was nearly dark, and the porch was swarming with mosquitoes. Bob high-tailed it back inside, yelling and muttering. If it was me, I would have thrown in a few choice curse words, I’m sure. Somehow, when Bob told this story, even the mosquitoes were my fault!
During one of our Management Team meetings at Margot's chalet in Gatlinburg, Bob showed me up. Our car (including Margot) reached the house early, ahead of the others. Margot complained that the bears had tossed her new trash can cage over the brink on the opposite side of the road. It seemed that the town had instituted the use of these heavy iron cages to house two large trash cans, in order to discourage marauding bears from foraging in the household garbage. It was a bit scary to contemplate, but a bear must have picked up this cage in frustration and heaved it across the street. There were no drag marks, but there it was across the street and down the hillside! Margot wondered if we could retrieve it. I tested the hillside, and started sliding down into the briars and the ultra-thorny Devil's Walking Sticks (perfectly named!). It was just too steep. We would need to find a long rope somewhere. I clawed my way back up to level ground. The next thing I knew, Bob was down at the cage calling to me. I don't know how he made it. After all, I am much more active than he, and I couldn't do it. Now, I had to go back down and help Bob bring this heavy enclosure back up. The thorns hurt! Somehow, though, we dragged and pushed and pulled this thing up about twenty feet of hillside, across the road, up another forty feet of steep gravel driveway, and onto its spot. Mr. Hardy had turned the tables on me.
Few people are aware that Bob snored VERY loudly when he slept. I can hit a pretty high decibel count myself. Even though the beds in the temporary quarters where we stayed, be it motel, retreat center, chalet, or house, were usually separated by only the width of a night table, we didn’t wake each other up with our log-sawing. Not so with the people on the other side of the wall, as we found out one night. We were both awakened by insistent pounding on the wall by our heads. The pounding was accompanied by shouting. Waking up abruptly from deep sleep, we could not figure out was happening. We finally realized that two ladies from our group who occupied the adjacent room were yelling at us to be quiet. I think they used stronger language than that. Our snoring was keeping them awake. We both rolled onto our side to reduce the snoring and went back to sleep. We heard about it again in the morning. Whatcha gonna do?
Bob had a facility for public prayer, such as invocations. At so many programs and meetings over the years we counted on him to provide meaningful opening or closing prayers. Our local Gold Coast Team created a Speakers Team. For a number of years we put on an annual "Happening", utilizing our own speakers as well as drawing from the community. Bob developed into an interesting presenter whose talks on the Bible were particularly popular.
In the A.R.E. community Bob was much more than a drawing force, he was also a driving force. He formed and nurtured a number of ‘A Search For God’ Study Groups throughout his many years of doing The Work. He served as Chairman of the annual Members' Congress shortly after I met him. There was his leadership and participation in picnics, meetings, Thanksgiving dinners, and Christmas / Chanukah parties. When A.R.E. formed the Southeast Region, the first of the national regions to be established, together Bob and I became charter members. Two decades later Bob became the Region Co-Coordinator, along with Martha Loveland. Together, they guided the Region forward, while at the same time working with Headquarters to establish a new relationship between HQ and the Region during a transitional period. This past summer he finally volunteered for, and was selected as, a member of the Board of Trustees.
I am blessed with what I call “a connection”. At Bob’s memorial service, I saw him as plain as day. I wasn’t trying to see him; I couldn’t help but see him. Facing the front of the chapel, Bob appeared behind the podium as if on a raised platform or stage. Smiling broadly, wearing a plaid shirt and Bermuda shorts, he reacted to the words of the minister and some of the other speakers. It was all in pantomime, in exaggerated gestures. When the minister made an analogy to eating a bowl of ice cream, Bob mimed holding a large bowl clutched to his chest with one arm, then digging in with a spoon using his other arm. At other times he stood still with his arms at his sides, watching the proceedings. Finally, one person honored Bob’s memory by singing Amazing Grace, one of his favorite songs, and Bob looked very pleased. The singer then commented that Bob thought it should be sung to the tune of The House of the Rising Sun. He proceeded to give us a rousing version of the first verse. With a victorious look on his face Bob threw his hands in the air in a touchdown gesture.
In Judaism we have a sort of Prime Directive: Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. This is balanced by Tikkun Middot, internal mending. Although Bob was not a Jew, he practiced these concepts from well before I met him, and succeeded in great measure. He wanted people to live better, more meaningful, lives. He worked hard at it, whether through politics, or through spiritual practices, or even at work. The A.R.E. work was where Bob’s heart flourished. He also did the internal work of understanding and assimilating lessons. He sought balance through meditation and Study Group, reading and prayer. Bob embodied, and taught, the concept he referred to as “The Fruits of the Spirit”, from Paul’s letter to the Galatian communities: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. He learned that wonderful lesson of working to change those things he could not accept, and accepting those things he could not change. Well done, my friend.