Robert Sherrill was 82 when the reaper finally caught up with him at home. He died on July 6 and I didn't know until Sunday, because that's how casually we treat heroes here.
If Bob had been a sports star, he'd have made the front page. If he'd sung and danced his way through B-musicals, the local news would have shown clips of a younger Bob hoofing it on celluloid.
But Bob was a writer, and a goddamn good writer.
In 1992, I read a piece in Esquire called The Truth About Getting Old and when I saw that Bob lived here in Durham, I was so knocked out that I looked him up and called. It was a Sunday morning and the conversation went something like this:
Me: Hi, is this Robert Sherrill?
Bob: I'm a Robert Sherrill.
Me: The Robert Sherrill who wrote the cover article for this month's Esquire?
Bob: Yes, I'm that Robert Sherrill.
Me: I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it.
Bob: Well thanks.
Me: I just wanted to tell you that.
Bob: OK, thanks.
Me: Because it was really good.
Bob: Glad you liked it.
Me: Uh, yeah, so...
Not having planned anything more to say, we stumbled through good-byes. Years later I met him at a friend's home. I reminded him of that call and again told him how much I liked that article. He shrugged it off. For the rest of the afternoon we sipped whiskey on the deck and talked of poets. Or Bob and my host talked of poets. I listened.
I regret not getting to know him better. So I won't pretend by pasting bits of his past cadged from other writers who did know him. I'll just give you links to two remembrances. This one in Esquire and this one from our local independent called, oddly enough, The Independent.
And I'll leave you with an excerpt from The Truth About Growing Old, the article that prompted me to call him on that Sunday morning 15 years ago. I urge you to go read the whole thing.
I have been watching myself, and I have been collecting stuff -- lies, propaganda, myths -- that says that growing old is great, and have come to one dazzling and, I think, irrefutable conclusion: Growing old is spinach.Bye, Bob. And wherever you are, keep a light on for us.