Farewell to Uncle Bob

This week’s Courier Herald column:

I got the sad news that Uncle Bob passed away last week, at the age of 90.  Robert Poydasheff wasn’t really my uncle, but that’s what everyone in Columbus Georgia called him. 

In addition to the honorary title of Uncle, he accumulated other titles of significance during his life. He was perhaps best known for being a former Mayor of Columbus.  He was an Army Colonel.  He served in the Nixon and Ford Administrations as an advisor to Secretary of the Army Bo Calloway.  He was a graduate of the Citadel, Tulane, Boston College, and attended the Army War College.

He was an attorney, Senior Vice President of a bank, a professor, and served on the boards of numerous civic organizations.  A Vietnam combat veteran, Bob also had occasionally jumped out of airplanes.  His favorite titles he had earned were that of a husband of 66 years, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

Bob was a man of substance and experience, but not of pretense. He genuinely liked people and actively sought to build them up and put them first.  I know this first hand, as over the past decade, Bob became one of my biggest sources of encouragement. 

I was originally introduced to him by some Columbus friends in the political and business community, and we became fast friends. A visit with Bob, usually over lunch at Columbus’ Chattahoochee River Club where he held court, was always a treat. 

I learned quickly to allow plenty of time for conversations, plural.  There was the talk with Bob where I could pull out stories from his bank of experiences, but they were punctuated with constant stoppages so he could introduce me to whomever else might be having lunch nearby. 

The routine was consistent.  He would get someone’s attention, call them over, introduce me, and then give me a relevant and pertinent back story of the person I was meeting.  It seemed everyone was the most distinguished, best at, or most accomplished person at something.  Bob was effusive with his praise.

I don’t actually like to talk on the phone, but I would always smile when I looked down and saw that it was Bob calling.  It generally meant that he had read my column, and that he approved. 

“Charlie, You’ve done it again!” he would bellow to start the conversation.  “I didn’t think you could write a better column than last week, but once again, you’ve outdone yourself!”  Bob had a unique gift of mastering simultaneous hyperbole and sincerity. 

Though I know I’ve written columns he would not have agreed with, I never got a call on one of those, ever.  In fact, I can’t recall him ever bringing up one with which he disagreed, though I knew him well enough to know that he had his own strong opinions and while we agreed much more than not, we wouldn’t always be on the exact same page.

His calls and our conversations weren’t about the opinions.  They were about someone with using the life he had lived and the experiences he had observed to give tangible examples to lift others up. 

Our conversation usually moved quickly from my column to whatever else was on his mind.  In an increasingly troubled and conflicted world, Bob remained a devout optimist.  It’s probably because despite the current tilt toward leaders and opinion makers who are rigid ideologues, Bob was a committed pragmatist.  He knew people well enough to understand how to get things done.

Bob’s circle was not limited to those like him or only to those with whom he agreed. Bob’s life was one of a military man who understood how quickly soldiers from all walks of life would be assimilated into a unit with a common purpose.  It was also one as a mayor that had to stretch a budget to solve problems for all of his community. 

Robert Stephen Poydasheff’s service to his country and his community lasted over many decades under many different titles.  For a country that could use more people lifted up and brought together for a common purpose, the title I’m going to miss most is “Uncle”.

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