My Friend Robert Todd passed away on Saturday

I am sad to write that my friend Robert Todd passed away at 2:25 A.M. on June 27 after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer.

Robert and I met on the handball courts in Orlando, Florida in 1987 or thereabouts when I was working for a resort management company near Disney World. Robert and I were pretty evenly matched, so our games were usually hard fought and close, though I think I won the last time we played there.

Eventually I said goodbye to Robert and left Florida for the wide open spaces of Texas, the Dallas-Fort Worth area to be specific. There I landed my first real writing gig, working for the better part of year creating customer communications for Transport Life Insurance Company.

Robert Todd and his son Montana

When my daughter had graduated from college, my contract with the insurance company had run its course, and my divorce was final, it was time for a change. So I drove three hours down I-35 to Austin, where I rented a little cottage in the hills outside of town. But as my bank account began to dwindle, I realized I needed to search for freelance writing work. I remembered that Holt, Rinehart and Winston had a high school textbook publishing division in Austin, an organization I’d turned down a project for while I was living near Fort Worth because of a full schedule.

I called Holt’s main number and briefly explained my situation to the receptionist: “I’m a writer, and I’m new in town. Do you know who I might talk with about doing some work for y’all?” The receptionist was very receptive to my query: “Let me transfer you to Alice Jones, the managing editor of our English Department. She may have something that would be a fit for you.” When Alice picked up, I again explained why I’d called. Alice said, “I don’t have anything right now, Bruce, but send me your resume, and I’ll keep you in mind when another project comes up. In the meantime, let me transfer you to Frank Johnson so you can check in with him.”

I talked to two other editors and got a similar response from each. Then I was transferred one more time: “Hello, this is Robert Todd,” the voice said. “Robert, this is Bruce Mulkey. You sound a lot like the guy I used to play handball with in Orlando.” There was a laugh of recognition on the other end of the line. “Yep, I’m the guy,” he chortled. “I think you kicked my ass the last time we played.” Then it was my turn to laugh. I explained to Robert that I’d recently moved to Austin and was looking for some work. Bob said he didn’t have anything, but he knew that an editor in the science department who did and that he’d set up a meeting. Then we talked about getting together for some handball on the University of Texas outdoor courts. From that point on, I had a steady flow of work from the Science and English departments at Holt, Rinehart and Winston, and plenty of handball matches with Robert. While the work didn’t require a great deal of creativity, I was stringing words together, and I was getting paid well for my efforts.

Robert and I were early members of a powerful men’s group that formed in 1995, and everyone in the group participated in The New Warrior Training in ’96, a weekend that greatly deepened our bonds.

When Shonnie and I moved to Asheville in 1997 and scheduled our marriage ceremony for 1999, a number of Austin friends, including members of my men’s group and folks from the More To Life community, joined us at Bend of Ivy Lodge outside Asheville for the festivities. Rather than a bachelor and bachelorette party, on Saturday night, Stanley Dill, Don Leighton-Burwell, and Robert gathered the men around a bonfire and led the men’s gathering, while Loyd Kinnett and Julie Demaree led the women’s gathering inside the lodge. Instead of getting intoxicated and telling bawdy stories, these events were intended to prepare us for married life through the shared wisdom of the participants. The women brought buttons and ribbons they used to create a vest for Shonnie that included a pocket filled with their wishes for her:

  • Be forgiving.
  • Always remember why you fell in love with Bruce.
  • Keep growing—as individuals and as a couple.
  • Every moment is an opportunity to create exactly what you want.
  • Remember to be as considerate to Bruce as you are to others.

As we sat around the fire at the men’s gathering, Robert kept the fire burning brightly while Stanley presented me with a six-foot hickory staff to help me travel my authentic path. Then every man had a turn to share from the heart with me:

  • Share yourself fully with Shonnie, including your hopes and fears.
  • Have the courage to change whatever needs to be changed to have a close, intimate relationship with Shonnie.
  • It’s OK to cry.
  • Choose being happy over being right.
  • Keep your purpose foremost in your mind.

From ’99 on I only saw Robert during our infrequent trips back to Austin, though we exchanged occasional emails, and talked a time or two. But his powerful spirit will always hold a special place in my heart. The world is a better place for your dynamic presence, Robert. Bon voyage, my stalwart friend.

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