I had the distinct honor of being invited to sing for a memorial service yesterday. I did not know Bob Winchester long, and yet I think I knew all the important things about him. Let me tell you how we met. About two years ago, a fellow soprano and I, along with two wonderful accompanists, put together a program of song to present at the retirement home where her mother was a resident. We called it "Sopranos and Pianos" and we spent many weeks rehearsing operatic arias, sacred solos, old standards...a real variety that we thought would be well received by our audience of seniors. As we began the performance that Sunday afternoon, I noticed a gentleman sitting in the back who was not just attentive -- he was enthralled! Singers always love to perform for an audience who seems to be greatly enjoying it, and we played to him! But as we ended the program and took our bows, the man came rushing to the front, threw his arms around me and said in a loud voice "I HAVE to sing with you!" That was Bob Winchester, a tenor of some experience and of much enthusiasm. He was 83 or 84 at the time, and a cancer patient, but so robust and full of excitement that he lifted the energy of everyone around him. We did actually sing together a few times following that event and I always went away feeling that a force of nature had enveloped me. He wanted to know about me, my husband, my poetry...and I found myself willingly sharing. I hadn't seen him in quite a while and then learned a few weeks ago that Bob had died from his spreading cancer.
It is almost impossible to imagine him in any other way than the day we met but yesterday I sat in a Friends Meeting House in Tucson and listened to 50-60 people talk about Bob. The stories were remarkably similar, regardless of the context in which the speaker knew Bob. He was a WWII fighter pilot, and later a psychologist/counsellor who devoted the last years of his life to working with veterans with PTSD, but aside from his varied and interesting background, he was a loving, caring human being who always saw the best in everyone he met. Nearly everyone, including his daughters, told of him spontaneously bursting into an Italian aria in wildly inappropriate places (especially when they were teenagers) but that was part of who he was. If he loved you (and he loved everyone) he was likely to sing your name loudly when he saw you. And if you were hurting or sad, he would silently hold your hand or walk with you without expectation.
The love in that room, the shared tears and laughter, all made it very clear that Bob Winchester will never die in the hearts of the people who knew him. We can all picture him, arms spread wide, big smile, singing an Italian aria somewhere...it doesn't matter where. I do know that we left that memorial service hoping that, when it is our time, there will be such a gathering in our honor.