Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Rest In Peace, Bob Callahan


That's TigerBlog's question. Why did Bob Callahan, of all people, have to be taken away so young, knocked down in his prime by a vicious form of brain cancer, one that he fought hard til the end, which finally came yesterday, long after it was supposed to.

There are no answers to this, of course. TigerBlog has asked this question before, about many others, including his own mother.

Why? Why would someone like Bob Callahan not be given the gift of longevity? Certainly he deserved it.

TigerBlog can't overstate enough just how great of a man Bob Callahan was, as a coach, a family man, an opponent, a co-worker, a friend - however someone knew him. 

 Bob Callahan was the men's squash coach at Princeton for more than 30 years. Before that, he played squash at Princeton, as an All-America and captain of a national championship team, before he graduated  in 1977, which made him a fixture in Jadwin Gym for as long as anyone.

He was a man of courage, grace, humility, humor and strength. He was a man of class, dignity, honor.

He fought this disease hard, harder than anyone could be expected to, long after it was obvious that he would not be the winner in this fight.

Back in the summer, Kim Meszaros, the assistant to the Director of Athletics, sent out an email asking members of the department to sign up to go see Bob on mornings when Bob's wife Kristen had to work at her job as a teacher at Mercer County College.

TigerBlog signed up for the first shift on the first day. It was Tuesday, Sept. 30. As it turned out, it was Bob and Kristen's anniversary. Their 36th.

Kristen explained to TigerBlog that morning that they had married young, at 23.

Bob's birthday was July 4. That made him 59 years old at the time of his death.

That morning back in September, Kristen explained that the doctors had given him two to seven more weeks to live. That was nearly four months ago.

That's toughness.

When TigerBlog was there that morning, Kristen warned him that Bob was in and out of it and that he'd probably sleep the whole time. Instead, he was the same Bob Callahan he'd always been - funny, alert, attentive, welcoming, considerate.

He remembered little details about TigerBlog's kids that TB couldn't believe he would. He joked with TB in that same, subtle, understated humor that he always did. He talked about the future with great anticipation.

Yes, his body was ravaged by then. He couldn't get out of bed. His voice was soft.

He was still Bob Callahan.

When TigerBlog left, he was sure it would be the last time he'd ever see Bob Callahan. As it turned out, it was.

In some ways, that's good, that TB's last memories of Bob mirror so much his earliest ones, going back a few decades.

Make no mistake, the man was a ferocious competitor. He won Ivy championships, national team championships. He coached individual champions.

TigerBlog remembers most the epic national final in 2012, when Princeton ended the 13-year run of national titles by Trinity in one of the greatest sporting events in Princeton athletic history.

Beyond the wins and the losses, Bob won every sportsmanship award there was. When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Philadelphia in 2012, the genuine respect and affection that was afforded to him by those he'd coached against was obvious.

It was in between those two events, the national championship in the winter of 2012 and the Hall of Fame induction in October, that Bob found out about his illness. He poo-poohed it at first, making it seem like he had a small health issue, like a cold that wouldn't go away or something.

He actually sat in TigerBlog's office and described the radiation treatments he was receiving as "nice," as in how nice all the people there were. Nice? The man had just found out that his life had been shortened by decades, and he used words like "nice" to describe the situation.

TigerBlog knew the end was coming, but it was still a jolt last night to see the email that announced it. TigerBlog read the words that Kristen wrote and couldn't help but admire her too, her own grace and courage and toughness.

Mostly, TigerBlog couldn''t help but smile when he thought about Bob, walking around Jadwin, stopping in to joke about something, asking how TB was and genuinely caring about what the response was.

That's how Bob would want it. TigerBlog knows that's a cliche, but in this case it's true. He'd want people to smile and laugh when they think about his life.

His passing is unexplainable. It's unfair.
TigerBlog goes back to his original question. Why?

What forces in the universe could allow someone like him to not reach 60 years old? Or at the very least, how are those who knew him to ever make sense of it?

Besides Bob's family, the one who was probably closest to him was Gail Ramsay, the longtime Princeton women's squash coach.

It was back maybe 12 or so years ago that TigerBlog took up playing squash, encouraged by Bob and Gail.

TigerBlog's favorite memories of Bob are the ones in the middle of workdays on C level of Jadwin Gym, when TigerBlog would stand in the hallway outside of the two adjoining squash offices and either go over the pre-match strategy or report on what went right or wrong after the match.

Both coaches would laugh at TB and his lack of squash fundamentals. Hold the racket tight and hit the ball as hard as possible. That's about all TB knew.

But they both encouraged him. They both loved to hear all about it.

That's how Gail is. And it's how Bob was.

TigerBlog, when he closes his eyes, can see Bob, in his short white tennis shorts and windbreaker. He can hear that soothing voice. He can see his smile and still feel the warmth that accompanied him when he'd walk into the office.

Now he's gone. It's unfair.

He will always be one of the greatest people TigerBlog ever met and one of the finest who ever set foot in Jadwin Gym or represented Princeton Athletics.

He wouldn't want it or be happy to know it, but TigerBlog shed a few tears when he saw his friend was gone. He couldn't help it, and those tears were replaced by the flood of happy memories, of happy times they shared, up until the last time TigerBlog ever saw him.

He was a beautiful, wonderful man.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Thank you TB for such a warm and sincere tribute to Coach Callahan. When I worked at Princeton and bumped into Bob, he always had a smile on his face. He calm, cool and collected even when championship matches were on the line. Prayers for his family and dear friends. He was taken much too soon from this earth. A legend and class act who will be sorely missed by all.