Wednesday, March 16, 2011

BOB ALBO: A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

The poster child for character was Sir Thomas More.  Henry the VIII cut off his head because Sir Thomas More refused to grant a divorce from Kathrine of Aragon--that he might marry Anne Boleyn.   He was imortalized in Robert Bolt's "A Man for All Seasons."

We said good bye to a modern day Sir Thomas on Sunday.

No one has ever forgotten the first time he shook hands with Bob Albo.  Albo’s  grip was as strong as his smile was wide.  You had the sense of what it must have been liked to shake hands with the rail splitting Abe Lincoln.

If memory serves (highly unlikely) he first bruised my hand at the Lair of the Bear in 1967.  A 20 year old Staffer, I was Pine Toxxing toilets and washing dishes (did we wash our hands in between?) and he had brought Marge and the kids up for 7th week along with the Culloms, Ricksen twins, Ditzlers, Maynes, Najerians, Tucks, Blues Rogers et al.

It was a week to remember—and savor.

Mosher, Olsen, Forbes, I and others were revved up for the intense camper staff Volley Ball and Softball games.  (Fortunately, there was no camper staff basketball).  As the last one to captain both the basketball and baseball teams in as single year, I’m not sure anyone of us wanted to challenge that giant for position under the boards.

Like Bluto, in the Popeye cartoons, Bob’s face sported a perpetual shadow.  The huge grin softened it.  I remember being amazed that an old man like that (I now realize he was only 13 years older than me) could hit a baseball so far.

With an upright stance like Will Clark, and no wasted motion, he pounded the ball to the far reaches of center field.  (We had a short porch in right and he could have easily reached the trees, but he never pulled it, instinctively knowing that, that would be unsporting).  We were to learn that integrity was his middle name.

Bob had played Basketball with the Ricksens, Baseball for George Wolfman, and though no one (save Rupe and John) could keep up with NCAA doubles champs, Mayne and Diztler, Albo could hold his own on the tennis court as well.

When my kids were down at John Gardner's Tennis camp the Camp Doctor?  Bob Albo--he loved that he was friends with Maggie and Jim Pop and was now taking care of their grandchildren.
He was a favorite of Dr. John Najerian ( who before he went off to fame as a kidney transplant surgeon at Mayo—(legend had it) never played during the regular season in 1950, due to Med school—yet starred in Pappy’s third consecutive Rose Bowl).

Oddly, at the Saturday night Show around the campfire, Albo, got up on stage and did the most amazing card tricks.  No wonder his grip was so strong.

He was the consummate Cal fan—always there to support whomever needed it.

I first introduced him to Cindy at the Garbage State Bowl when Cal came east to play Temple in 1979. 
I last saw him at Bud Murray’s Funeral here in Napa.  He waved and I looked forward to seeing him at the reception.  He didn’t make it. Hips too painful.

When the greatest athlete to come to Cal since Craig Morton, Rick Bennet was in that horrific automobile accident (riding in a car on his way up to visit the Lair), the first one at his side at the Med Center was Bob Albo.  

According to Truck, though they never thought he’d walk again they performed a non-surgical operation “Popping his pelvis back into place” before they got down to the nitty-gritty stuff.

Eventually, Bennet ended up not only walking, but (thought he never regained the blinding speed he once had, he was able to practice with the team).   Just another bit of magic from Dr. Bob.

Yes, he not only did magic tricks, he was a renowned magician.  He wrote 15 books on the subject and his private collection is now housed at the David Copperfield Museum in Vegas.  

His lecture on Magic was called:  The History of Mystery.

If magic and his private practice weren’t enough, he was also the team doctor for the Warriors and the Raiders.

Like his friends, Bob was an unbelievable loyal friend.  He once told me, “Anyone ever says anything bad about Al Davis—punch ‘em in the nose.  No one knows what a great man Al Davis actually is.”
(I always guessed his admiration for Al was due to Al’s commitment to equality.  As an assistant at SC, Al recruited the first black qb, Willie Wood, at a major college-- He hired Tom Flores, the NFL's first Latino head coach and Art Shell, the first modern day black head coach. He drafted Eldridge Dickey, the first Black quarterback taken in the first round.  But I digress.)

Bob saw character—not skin color.  The most eloquent speaker at his over flow service at The Claremont Country Club was Earl Robinson—Bob’s long time friend and one of the few Black Athlete’s at Cal in the 50’s.

Bob Coached Freshman Basketball and Baseball after he graduated and Earl was one of his star pupils.  How great was Earl?  Not only was he a two sport star, he also was the head Yell leader when Cal last went to the Rose Bowl.  But again, I digress.

(Speaking of digressing.....In another Albo/Davis story, Cindy and I were having dinner with the Stoneys at Trader Vics.  Al Davis was next to us.  When he left, the Maitre’d came back and asked us our names.  She said Mr. Davis was on the phone and wanted to know who the people were who talking about Bob Albo--they must "be important").

Of course, when talking about Albo one must always digress.  He was a whirling dervish with so many aspects to his personality that it is natural to wander when thinking of him.

Of course, he was a genius—and married one—Marge, the daughter of Nobel Laureate, Wendell Stanley.  As Earl said in his talk, “Bob’s last words to me were, ‘I love my wife.’"

That was Bob.

All the heroic adjectives one can think of apply to Bob.  Next to “integrity” the one most appropriate is generous.  

A few years back, when Bennet’s kid, Drew, was playing for the Titans they came out to play the Raiders. My son, JJ begged to go, so I called Bob.  He’d get me the tickets (on the 50 naturally) as long as I promised to bring JJ early enough to go down on the field before the game to watch the Raiders warm up.

That was Bob.

Years ago, when Bob had a chance to buy a lake front property at Tahoe  at a great price, rather than keep it to himself, he called his “second father” the late BobTuck and they bought it together.  Bob idolized “Babba.”  They had literally pounded nails together to help build the Lair and Baba might have helped out on a few business ventures.

The house was called “Shrangri-La.”  Until it burned down some time back,  thanks to the largess of the Tuck and Albo families, my kids got to experience true, old style Tahoe—the way it once was.

(When Babba was tragically run over by a car, 5 steps from his office, it was Albo who worked frantically on him to save his life).  Think about that for a  moment. 

When my mother was in the Med Center with serious heart problems, Albo stopped by—just to make sure.

That was Bob.  JJ's grandma (and his old tennis nemesis) was important to him.

Understand:  We weren’t having dinner at each other’s homes, nor meeting for drinks after work.  But we were Bears and belonged to the same tribe.  Bob was just being Bob—loyal to a fellow golden Bear.
When my niece, “Came out” at a debutante ball in the City,  who was there in white tie and tails, at the mike,  introducing the young  women and their escorts?   Bob-- a man for all seasons.
I never asked Marge, Bob Jr., Doug, or Debbie, but my guess is Bob needed little sleep.  Like Mozart or Napolean, he must have gotten by on three or four hours a night.  How else could he have accomplished so much.

“Da Vinci,”  Carl said.  “That’s the closest comparison.”  Sounds outlandish—but it is right on point.  He was a renaissance man  who knew the code.

When Cal cut Baseball and Rugby, Bob went apoplectic.  He released a statement to the media;

Inside Bay Area reported:  “I think this is gender-biased,” he said in accusing Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, Athletic Director Sandy Barbour and the Academic Senate. “They could have diverted some of those stupid funds that they’re putting up there on the hill to make an Olympic center. What the heck is that? I’m all for upgrading Memorial Stadium, and having a weight room and all the other aspects of it, but an Olympic center is $30-$40-million. What are we putting that thing in for…..you have done the university a great disservice. You and the rest of your so-called committee should be ashamed.”

I knew great minds think alike!

Yet, a loyal Golden Bear to the end, he asked that donations be made out to the Cal Athletic Department.  (We’re making ours out to Baseball).

That was Bob.  

One is not supposed to count, but the crowd at the Clarement CC was the largest I’ve ever witnessed.  And we’ve attended more “celebrations of life” there than we care to count.

It was a  Cal (and professional sports) Hall of fame crowd.  (Nobody begrudged Plunkett  his  inadvertent choice of undergraduate institutions, as he and Kapp fought their way through the crowd).

Jim Otto told how Bob phoned his wife every day for two months when he was in intensive care in a Salt Lake Hospital.

Bob was inducted into the Cal Hall of fame in 2007 the same year as Hawley.  Two physical giants—two gigantic personalities.

Think of those 7th week campers.  Great athletes all.  Successful professionals. Great citizens.  Loyal Friends.  Loyal Golden Bears.  And they all stayed married to their wives.  

We were blessed.  All who knew that group are blessed to have been in their orbit.  And blessed that Marge and the kids were so patient with Dad when he shared so much of his time with us.

Professional illustrator, coach, Hall of famer, Magician, Surgeon, loyal friend and loyal Golden Bear.   They truly broke the mold after they made Bob Albo.  We shall not see his like again, for a long, long time.  

How lucky we were to have known him.

Go Bears,
Jeffrey Earl Warren  ‘70