Tuesday, March 20, 2012

It's Mandatory

The man at the door to the big conference room at the Carl Fields Center - the greeter, if you will - had a scalp full of staples, a reminder that he was a week removed from brain surgery.

Only you couldn't see any of them. Not a single one.

Instead, he had a full head of hair covering any sign that something was amiss. He was his usual self, Bob Callahan was, funny and modest and soft-spoken and genuine and concerned for everyone else.

It's been quite a few months for Callahan.

First, there was the incident in December, when Callahan's car was hit by a power line that snapped, incinerating the vehicle seconds after Callahan had gotten out of it.

Then there was February, when Callahan's team had a dream weekend at Jadwin Gym, where Princeton ended Trinity's 13-year run as national champion.

And then the dream quickly turned to a nightmare.

Not that you could tell by Callahan's original email.

TigerBlog will summarize Callahan's first correspondence this way: He basically said he had something little to take care of, nothing worse than a common cold or root canal, and that he'd be back soon good as new.

And sure enough, there he was, not too long after having a mass removed from his brain, at the monthly athletic department staff meeting, first standing at the door getting hugged from everyone and then taking about three or four minutes to talk to everyone.

In typical Bob fashion, he included this:
"When people asked me why I was here, I told them that it's the monthly meeting. After all, it's mandatory."

Every workplace with more than a handful of people has, TB assumes, a similar dynamic to the one that exists here.

There are the people you like. There are the people you don't like. There are different groups by age, experience, position and so on who hang together more than the people from the other group.

It's just the nature of a large organization of people.

And then there's the Bob Callahan type, the person in your organization that you can't possibly find someone to say something bad about. The one everybody loves.

TB has liked Bob - and Gail Ramsay, the women's coach - since Day 1 here.

They are both such great role models, such great educators, such team players, such funny people - such great people.

They have encouraged TB and all of the other people here who have gotten involved in playing squash almost like proud parents whose kids have decided to enter the family business. They instruct, they laugh, they're patient with beginners.

They seem to love their place here at Princeton, as the well-respected, ultra-successful coaches of a sport that usually operates far from the mainstream.

Any Princeton fan would have been fired up to beat Trinity. That it was Bob Callahan whose team did it made it even better.

And then there was his email, nonchalant, about not a cold or a bad tooth but about a brain tumor, and imminent surgery to remove it.

It was shocking to read; even more shocking to process.

And then there he was the meeting, there to reassure everyone, to talk about how lucky he was in his life, to talk about the sheer joy of waking up and being able to move his arms and legs and speak and see his five Princeton-educated sons and his wife and how no matter what, he'd be back and indeed, as good as new.

It's hard to describe the emotion of a moment like that. TB knows he was smiling with each word that came out of Bob's mouth, that he was shocked at how good he looked (Bob, not TB), that it was all so comforting to find him so, well, normally himself.

And then there was also some envy. Not of the tumor, obviously.

Of the man himself.

Envy at the site of a person so rock solid, someone who long ago learned to cherish every day, who learned what was important in his life, who sees only the good in people and things, who is so genuine in what he says and does.

He's a wonderful man, Bob Callahan. To know him is to like him, to love him, to love to be around him, to be overwhelmed by his gentle humor, humility and character.

He's not all the way there yet. But he'll get there.

And as he goes through this, he knows that everyone here is pulling for him.

Rooting for Bob Callahan?

It's mandatory.


ab said...

We love you Bob!

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Please keep all of us posted and all the best for Bob.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

wishing you the best Bob!!!!!

excellent job TB!

Anonymous said...

Thanks TB for saying what we are all feeling and thinking about Bob.