By Chip Bertino
For the first time in the 16 year history of this newspaper (The Courier), Bob Lassahn will not be among its readers. Bob passed away late Sunday morning with his wife Sherri at his side. He was 68.
Bob was the first person I hired when this paper was launched. He started several weeks before the first edition published. He had recently retired as a lieutenant from the Baltimore City police department. Sherri had seen our help wanted ad and urged Bob to apply. With some reluctance he did. My father-in-law, Bob Adair, who was our editor, first talked with Bob about the job. The two hit it off immediately; the retired Army officer and the retired cop or as we referred to them: the Two Bobs. During his first meeting in our office, Bob L looked over at me and asked Bob A, “Who’s the kid?” Laughing, Bob A. told him, “That’s the owner of the paper.” Bob L’s response? “You’re kidding!” He eventually became editor of this paper in 2008.
Very quickly Bob became more than an employee and the relationship drifted into a friendship. Within a couple months his wife Sherri started working with my wife bagging and delivering this paper. The two became close friends. We spent a lot of time together, dining at each other’s homes, at barbecues and attending something we named, “The Call.” It was a silly excuse to join up at the Marina Deck Restaurant in Ocean Pines on Friday nights. There were a number of people who were a part of this group including among others, Joe and Jeannette Reynolds, Jack Barnes, Sharyn O’Hare, Roseann and Al Bridgman as well as one or more of our children. It was a fun group.
Bob was a gifted writer and poet. Although he covered OPA and county commissioner meetings for the paper, it was his feature stories that I most enjoyed. He had a knack through his writing to take readers on a casual walk along a grassy way next to a picturesque stream. It was a talent that came naturally to him. He once wrote a history on SPAM as well as Creamed Chipped Beef also known as SOS. There was the time he profiled the mating habits of a ping pong ball. His skills as a poet were extraordinary and I believe it was through these verses that he was best able to express himself and articulate nuance and emotion. To commemorate the accomplishments of the ladies who bagged and delivered our newspaper, he wrote, “Ode to the Bag Ladies,” which he first read at a luncheon in their honor. It brought down the house.
For my wife’s fortieth birthday Bob wrote and recited a special poem he had written in her honor. In it he described her unique laugh and told of the consequences of “poking the bear” before she had coffee. It was touching, sentimental and hysterical. Susan hugged him a long time after his performance. Truth be told, she liked getting hugs from Bob. She always said he was a good hugger.
During the several times The Courier moved its offices, Bob and Sherri were right there lending a hand. During one move he and Bob A gutted part of the building and constructed a production area; just the two of them donning work hats and swinging hammers. They were like children with an Erector set, having a good time and swapping stories.
When Bob A and our family were suffering through the last stages of Bob’s fight against ALS, Bob and Sherri were right there. On a Saturday morning our family was gathered at Bob’s bedside at Atlantic General Hospital. The end was very near. I called Sherri and Bob who were on assignment for the paper. I asked if they would come to the hospital to keep our children company in the waiting room. Susan and I wanted the kids to have as many familiar people around them as possible. “We’re on our way,” Sherri said. And they were. They spent the next eight or nine hours (I forget how many now) just being there for our children and Susan and me. They were a great comfort during that hellacious time.
That evening, Bob and Sherri returned home with us. Bob and I each had a cigar. For several hours, Bob and Sherri listened to Susan and me and our children tell stories about Bob A. It was a tough night made just a little more comforting by Bob’s (and Sherri’s) presence.
There was no better place to have dinner than at Bob and Sherri’s dining room table. The food was always good but it was the conversation and laughter that set those experiences apart. For several years running we spent New Year’s Eve at their home enjoying dinner and camaraderie. One particular holiday stands out. At the table were the Reynolds, Susan and I and the Lassahns. Susan and I had planned to take our leave around 9:30 p.m. Well, so engrossed were we in the conversation that at one point we became aware it was a few minutes before midnight. We gathered around the television and watched the ball drop in Times Square. We had completely lost track of the time.
Susan once asked Joe Reynolds what his definition of fine dining was. He articulated what many of us believed. He defined fine dining as sitting a Bob and Sherri’s table. How true!
A number of years ago a delegation of Mongolian women were visiting the United States to better understand political campaigning and elections. These were professional women who were planning to run for office in their country. When I learned about this visit from Roseann Bridgman while we were walking through the buffet line at a Versakat’s concert, I had the idea of hosting a dinner for them. Unfortunately it couldn’t be held at our house because we were having work done. Undeterred, when I got back to our table, I shared with Sherri my idea and that I wanted to have the dinner at her house. Without missing a beat she pulled her calendar from her purse, turned to Bob and confirmed a date.
It was Bob’s idea that a full Thanksgiving dinner be prepared so the women could get an understanding of an American tradition. On the day of the dinner he deep fried four turkeys and prepared a narrative on the history of the holiday. In addition to the female visitors, host families and translators attended. I also invited several people from around the community to join us. The evening got off to a slow start because of unfamiliarity and a language barrier. Finally, as dinner was finishing up, one of the Mongolian women said that it was customary to sing Mongolian folksongs at gatherings. Joe invited them to sing. The woman replied that usually they first drank Vodka. Joe turned to Bob and asked, “Bob do you have any Vodka?” Without missing a beat Bob said, “Hold on” and went to the kitchen freezer and extracted a chilled bottle of Vodka. From that moment on the evening morphed into a memorable event of singing and dancing. Why? Because Bob yet again had what was necessary to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
Bob left us too soon. As a friend said to me while we were commiserating about his passing, “Why is it that it’s always the good ones who leave us too early?” Why indeed. He made us comfortable with his hearty laugh and casual manner. He possessed an illuminating personality and we were all the better for having been in his presence. He leaves behind a wife, Sherri, with whom he was married 52 years, a daughter, three granddaughters and three great-granddaughters as well as the many, many friends.
Goodbye friend and thank you!