Ode to Red, Rob and others gone too soon

ktanner@thetribunenews.comMarch 8, 2012 

What a couple of weeks, packed with losses and gains, pain and pleasures. Yeah, I know. That’s life. But the end of February seemed super-compressed, whipsawing our emotions back and forth like a hammock in a hurricane.

There were medical and dental issues, financial concerns (including the $40 in gas it now costs to drive San Luis). But those were the paper cuts of life.

The body blows were fierce.

Every time we lose someone who helped define the soul of this magical area, it’s as if the fabric of the town’s security blanket is ripped apart a little bit more.

One especially painful recent loss was Red Holloway — lovely friend and internationally acclaimed jazz saxophonist extraordinaire. With his failing kidneys and recent stroke, his death on Feb. 25 shouldn’t have shocked us. However, we can be prepared, but we’re never really ready.

We’ve lost a great talent, a wonderful smile and laugh, a sincere hugger and a lovely, quirky man. He's not in pain any more, but we are. So many of us will miss him. I hope he knew how many.

Other losses, including the deaths of Tom and Shirley Christian, also left a gap in the warp and weave of our town.

We hoped for better times in March, but already, the month has roared in with a kidney punch.

Rob Bryn died suddenly, unexpectedly, March 1.

He wasn’t a Cambrian, but in his job as public information officer for the county sheriff’s department, he affected the North Coast.

Professionally, Rob was affable, straightforward, helpful and informative. I could call him at any time, and he never, ever snapped at me.

He never dodged a call, never handed out b.s. instead of facts, wasn't afraid to say “I don't know, but I'll try to find out,” and knew in his heart that his real bosses were our readers and other members of the public. His sense of humor was rightfully legendary, and his sense of commitment was unshakable.

Every Monday, I’d plea for details about this North Coast incident or that report. Rob always would call me back. Always.

That kind of speedy, reliable responsiveness is rare in any governmental agency, let alone in law enforcement.

Rob always gave me as much information as he could about the accidents, burglaries and other cases that make up the bulk of crime reporting on the North Coast. He always spoke in real-life English, rather than legalese.

Whenever it was appropriate, however, he was upbeat, funny and light-hearted, and always a joy to work with. Even over the phone, I could see him smiling.

We were colleagues, yes, but we were friends first. He’d answer any questions he could … after he asked how we were doing, and I’d asked about the daughters he adored.

Last fall, I’d asked Rob for a step-by-step procedural — always a ticklish request for law enforcers — of what had preceded a 2010 shootout in San Simeon.

Rob didn’t hesitate. “I trust you,” he said, as he pulled together Undersheriff Martin Basti and Senior Deputy Todd Steeb. They explained how the deputies’ precisely careful planning resulted in the shootout and the arrests, with the only injury being to a suspect’s leg.

(The four suspects from Fresno eventually pleaded no contest to various charges stemming from their sometimes violent crime spree from Fresno to Pacific Grove and Big Sur.)

After the long, detailed interview, we all relaxed, and Rob again became the funny man he was. He began relating how he had donned a Santa suit to astonish (and maybe embarrass, just a little) his boss, Sheriff Ian Parkinson, during a press conference about the department’s holiday bicycle giveaway. Rob even pulled up on the computer a video of the surprise.

We all laughed so hard, we had tears running down our faces.

That’s how I’ll remember Rob.

I’ll miss him a lot, and so will our readers, although they may not realize it.

Of course, there were happy times in February, too, magic Tanner moments large and small. Those are the kind of simple joys that can quietly reweave the harshly rent fabric of life.

Yes, things will get better. I know they will. They always do. This is Cambria, after all, and that is our security blanket.

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