Column

Oliver: Friendship developed one emailed letter at a time

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

When one writes a newspaper column, criticism comes with the territory. So I try not to be too surprised when, from time to time, someone decides they don’t like something I’ve written.

However, I wasn’t quite prepared for the note I received from longtime Letter to the Editor writer Robert Van Ness Jr. back in October 2014. Apparently, he had written a “thumbs-up, thumbs-down” letter for publication and had included me in the “thumbs-down” portion. Unfortunately, the letter was not forwarded to me, and so I was blissfully unaware of my failings. That is, I was until he forwarded it to me with another note that reiterated his criticisms.

Needless to say I was a bit taken aback. However, I do my best to respond to everyone who takes the time to write to me as long as I can do so constructively. So after thinking awhile about Bob’s note, I crafted a response, admitting that maybe he might have been right about my writing too much about hockey and mentioning my alma mater more often than I should. (“Tooting your own horn,” he called it.)

That response would be the start of a years-long friendship. In fact, he wrote again a few months later to tell me how much he enjoyed something else I had written. I guess I had won him over.

Some time passed, but Bob wrote again at the end of 2016 to share his thoughts on a year-end column I had written that mentioned all the people who had died the previous year. It had touched “a nostalgic chord” with him, he told me.

I heard from him more often when I started to write about my family’s experience with dementia. Bob always made a point to ask after everyone and never failed to be encouraging. I so appreciated those notes.

When I wrote about my little tulip leaf in the spring, he wrote a wonderful note to share his passion for gardening and for planting zinnias specifically. It also was a chance to share with me a story about how looks can be deceiving and first impressions sometimes can be off-base. He then apologized for being so hard on me years before. It touched my heart, let me tell you.

After a time, he’d send along his letters to the editor and some of his own writings. These would inevitably be accompanied by humorous introductions.

As a response to a column I wrote about summer memories, he sent along some of his own. I so enjoyed his recollections of growing up in Carpentersville and how he met his beloved wife, Carol, and how he loved to fish. That love of fishing continued into his 60s, and he gave me a tip about Barbara Key Park, “one of the best-kept secrets in LITH.” Later he would remind me of the park and “especially Larsen’s.”

Little did I know then that I would lose my friend Bob before I ever had a chance to visit his favorite fishing holes or even to have met him in person. I was taken aback again, this time by seeing a newspaper story that they had found Bob’s body the morning of Aug. 8 in the pond at Larsen Park in Lake in the Hills. He apparently had suffered a heart attack.

Words cannot even begin to express how shocked and saddened I am at his death, and my heart goes out to his family.

Bob, my friend, you will be missed.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

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