by BRENDA STEWART
On the morning Bob Barton died, I came home to a vase of yellow roses in the warm winter sun on my wooden writing desk – a tribute placed by a man who had come to accept his wife’s reverence and fascination with a charismatic, silver-haired orator who had set fire to his woman’s heart.
Yellow roses were our tradition, and this sad morning, his vase held only 11. The twelvth he had left, in grief and gratitude, at Bob’s Burleson Street gate. Stark homage to a man who had set sail to his wife’s wings a decade ago.
When I met Bob he was steely-eyed and swaggering – post-legislative, post-retirement and a posterboy for the raging yellow dog Democrat Texas is famous for. Always speaking his mind, he was stormy, pacing, throwing his head back, laughing at the irony, pondering the possibilities. He was a gust. A gale.
I was a slate, caught up in the whirlwind. Bob was provocative and pre-emptive and persistent. He channeled this passion, and the words in me hit the pages of his newspaper with a focus and a force to be reckoned with. It surprised us both.
And when the heat of my writing drew hostility and hysterics and newspaper subscription cancelations, I recoiled in regret. He just laughed, saying, “If you don’t make someone mad at least once a day, you’re not doing your job.”
Absolutely unfazed, he retreated to his battered yellow legal pad as I typed out another column. Just another Sunday afternoon in a dusty old Hays Free Press building.
He was always scheming, drawing me in. “Find me maps with precinct lines. Locate sites for these Obama signs. Lease me a place in old town to host local Democrats; Doggett’s up. Hays County matters. We can sway this.”
Ironically, Bob died on the birthdate of one of his heros, Martin Luther King Jr. Like King, Bob took on the challenge of the disenfranchised and disillussioned and was a raging voice for the silent.
As happenstance would have it, we said our formal farewell to Bob on the birthdate of another one of his heros. A woman that made him spit nails and shake the rafters with his laughter in the same encounter.
With a mind for statistics and an acute eye for detail, Lila Knight held Bob’s feet to the fire, fed him accurate county-wide information and a healthy dose of town gossip. They were volitile, evocative and mind-numbingly exhausting, all at once. A formidable pair, they were unabashedly dedicated to the prosperity of Hays County. We lost a native son, she lost a comrade.
Last Saturday morning, in the old rock gym, we all fought back tears and gave way to laughter as Bob’s family, friends, politicians and professors paid hommage to a man that had both exasperated and enchanted us all. Mariachis twanged, a 21-gun salute rang out and the mournful wail of taps pierced the thick gray air as we said our goodbyes.
Wandering down the hill from the memorial, I glanced up at the weathered Obama ’08 sign still tethered to my fence post. I remembered Bob telling the story of when he first heard that someone had bought the old Schwartz place downtown, he hopped in his truck and drove by to see who had landed in Kyle.
Seeing a tattered “Americans for Peace” sign newly hammered to the wayward pickets out front, even before we had unpacked our furniture, he figured we were okay, or at least Democrats.
That was Bob. Always looking for the greater good. And that single yellow rose of Texas left in a gracious moment of grief the day Bob died, speaks to the gratitude that we all feel for this good man.
Peace, Bob. And thanks. I’ll think of you when it thunders.
- New map puts Doggett, Castro in separate districts 11/22/2011
- A time before war 04/7/2010
- Business according to Bob 01/23/2013