July 6, 2011

Farewell Tribute to a Comrade

I've only known Bob Meyer for about two years. But I can tell you this: As regards his service to those living with disabilities, he was a giant among men.

Technically my relationship with Bob would be described as that of co-worker at Bridge Disability Ministries. But I actually thought of him as more of a comrade. You see, we were both involved in this conspiracy to change the world and make it a better place for people living with disabilities. I may not know everything there is to know about Bob, but I can tell you he worked tirelessly in service to people with mobility and other needs the entire time I knew him, and from reports I've gathered, many years before that. At Bridge he served on the board 1999-2001, and later assumed the role of Manager of our Mobility Ministry in 2007. He's been immersed in all things Mobility ever since.

Bob was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease before I even met him, yet he continued to log long hours working in Mobility until shortly before his passing. He submitted about 30 hours a week on his timesheet, but as Volunteer Administrator for Bridge for the past year, I was aware of the number of volunteer hours Bob logged as well. The numbers tell the story. In 2010 Bob logged almost 300 volunteer hours. As recently as January he logged 30.75 volunteer hours, and that was not at all unusual for him. In fact, I always had a sneaking suspicion he may not have even told me about all the volunteer hours he put in. For one thing, there were all those trips to pick up and drop off equipment at people's houses around the region on the weekends and in the evenings "on the way" somewhere. For another thing, well - I knew Bob. And he wasn't one to waste time and energy tooting his own horn.

Right up through April of this year Bob continued to log volunteer hours, even as his health steadily deteriorated. When I received the monthly Volunteer Hours report from Mobility and saw that Bob had logged 10 volunteer hours in April, I could hardly believe it. I knew how rough things were for him by that point, having seen his difficulty drawing breath for myself. When he began to require an oxygen pump to help him breathe, he just kept on going - carrying the device around in a bag slung over his shoulder. I remember seeing him huff and puff up the hill from Mobility to the main office often, and shaking my head in disbelief. And even when the time came that he could no longer come into the Mobility shop to work, I know he continued to call and email in information and work on the computer remotely until just a few weeks ago. He did everything he could to help smooth the transition for Gerry Barney as he assumed the lead position in Mobility. Bob's dedication to the Mobility Ministry was faithful indeed.

The really amazing thing I noticed about Bob right away when I met him was his energy. Bob had so much energy, he seemed unstoppable at times - especially remarkable in light of his lung disease. I've joked more than once that he reminded me of the Energizer Bunny...he kept going and going and going. He grew up an Iowa farm boy, and I always felt a connection to him because my parents were both raised on Iowa farms, as were most of my extended family. Since I had always lived in the Pacific Northwest, I never got a chance to know my extended family well. So working with Bob was kind of like having an opportunity to be around one of my uncles from Iowa; his work ethic, mannerisms and sense of humor being very familiar to me.

In his working career, Bob has been a manager of meatpacking plants (he was always good for a spam joke), a business man who owned bakeries (he was famous for his cinnamon rolls) as well as a business consultant (his idea of 'retirement'). True to his farm upbringing, he was an early to rise and early to work kind of guy. He never was one to shrink from a hard day's work. During his tenure at Mobility, he constantly labored to make the operation more efficient and productive, ever increasing the amount of mobility equipment refurbished and given to people in need. Bob was a doer.

Bob's journey brought him to the leadership position at Mobility after his retirement from the bakery business. Characteristically, his first step in retirement was to create a consulting company in order to get involved with non-profits. Yeah, I know. You're probably wondering, why didn't he just go play golf? Actually, I happen to know he enjoyed golf a lot too! But that was Bob. Not one to sit around idle, it wasn't long before he was hired to coordinate the move to our new location in 2007, and soon afterward he was hired as Mobility Manager. Thank heavens Bridge didn't let him get away!

Bob had a vision for the Mobility Ministry developed from his experience as a board member as well as his knowledge and experience in the fields of business management and plant production. With that knowledge and experience, he was able to take the bare, empty space provided in the business park where we are now located and turn it into the neat, organized and smoothly running operation it is today. He established realistic parameters for the type of equipment we could provide and a production system to make it all happen. He also expanded the volunteer workforce in Mobility to take advantage of the increased space in our new shop.

In addition to the work Bob did internally to make the Mobility Center function well, he also worked externally to increase its impact in local communities and around the world. He created a system by which equipment and other medical goods which Bridge couldn't distribute locally were passed on to other organizations that could distribute them. A heck of a lot of useful items that have passed through Mobility have traveled around the globe to people who needed them due to his efforts.  Bob also developed working relationships with local physical and occupational therapists so that patients who could not afford new mobility equipment got the best fit possible with our reconditioned equipment. Anything that could not be repaired and reused was recycled if at all possible, with many trips to the scrap metal recyclers reducing trips to the landfill. Bob did not like waste.

Once again, the numbers tell the story. In the period of time since Bob assumed control of Mobility we have seen approximately a 20% growth per year, with an over 70% increase in the number of pieces of equipment processed through Mobility annually - a total of 2582 in 2010. We've gone from processing about $400,000 in retail value through the doors of our humble little Mobility Center annually to over $1 million, with about 40% being distributed to international organizations. Think about it - that's 2582 needs of people living with disabilities being met. 2582 people who couldn't walk getting around on wheelchairs, walkers, crutches and scooters as well as receiving other medical equipment and goods they need, not only locally but around the world.

I think it's clear that the Lord prepared Bob well for the work he did here at Bridge. But work is not all there was to Bob. To those who knew him, Bob was not only a hardworking man with business acumen. He was also a sincere Christian man who earnestly endeavored to put the teachings of Jesus Christ to work in his own life. When I asked his long time friend, our Executive Director Jack Staudt, how he would sum Bob up, he answered "Bob was a righteous man". Bob was known to be a daily reader of scripture throughout his lifetime, and I enjoyed his devotions in staff meetings. I could count on him for an interesting take on the meaning of a particular scripture as it applies to our lives today. It was obviously something to which he gave a lot of thought.

Probably the best thing about Bob though, was that he really, really, really cared about people. He not only served folks with physical disabilities, but also participated in Spiritual Care events geared for folks with intellectual disabilities and involved them in the work of the Mobility Ministry whenever possible. When I saw him interacting with folks living with intellectual disabilities, his caring and compassion for them shined through. As the mother of an autistic child myself, it would be difficult to fake that with me. After 14 years raising an autistic kid, I have acquired those mom antennae that help discern genuine caring from political correctness or politeness. I can testify: Bob was the real deal.

I had the opportunity to learn firsthand about this caring side of Bob when I had a serious setback with an old knee injury last year. I fell on the knee about 4 years ago and caused some damage which, like a lot of people, I've never been able to seek medical help for due to a lack of access to medical insurance. I'd been limping along on it for about 3 years when I accidentally re-injured it and began to have serious problems getting around. Bob could see that I was having difficulty and invited me to come down to Mobility if I decided I could use some help.

One day the knee suddenly went right out from under me when I was going down a set of stairs so I went to visit Bob. Within a few minutes he had found a pair of crutches that fit me, adjusted them for my individual needs and sent me on my way with a smile. I was broke at the time, as I often am being the single parent of an autistic child, but that wasn't even an issue. When you were down, and needed help getting around, Bob was the man to see. One day I hope to be in a position to make a generous donation to the Mobility Ministry in memory of Bob for being there when I needed him.

Now, if you didn't know Bob well and you've started wondering if this is a whitewash, let me tell you something else: Bob was not perfect. Furthermore, I'm sure he'd have been the first to admit he's no candidate for sainthood. He had his "curmudgeon moments", as people with vision, drive and determination generally do. And we didn't always agree on everything either. But that's okay. I figure, if Jesus didn't require him to be perfect to be loved, then why should I? And actually, I think his human imperfections made him all the more lovable. Hmmm...maybe there's a lesson in there somewhere. Anyway, bottom line - I have the greatest respect both for Bob and his work in the Mobility Ministry. And if I were asked to sum Bob up, I'd say he was, and is, and will continue to be, an inspiration.

Well, that's my tribute to Bob. I'm sure others will be written by those who knew him longer and better than I did, but for what it's worth - I'm sure going to miss him. I'll remember the twinkle in his eye, his wry smile, his dry wit and his jovial laugh. I'll remember his energy, his initiative and his caring personalty. Most of all, I'll remember his steadfast faith.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 5:10-11 


  1. AnonymousJuly 08, 2011

    A wonderful tribute for a godly and loving man! I never met Bob, but would have liked to.

  2. Middy GoldadeJuly 08, 2011

    A beautiful personal/professional testimonial and remembrance.
    Thank you for so poignantly sharing. Middy Goldade

  3. As a volunteer in the mobility equipment shop, I worked two afternoons a week with Bob. He was the real deal. It was a joy to walk into the shop and ask, “what is the priority of the day for my time”? Quite often, Bob would give me this sheepish grin and ask if I was up to cleaning equipment in preparation for servicing. When you work side by side with someone as dedicated as Bob, it is always a joy to jump in and do what was needed.
    Bob passion was people, not equipment. His passion drove him to serve people with meeting their equipment needs. Bob would often share God given inspirations about life and how scripture fueled these inspirations. I’ll miss Bob, miss his positive spirit. It’s been a joy knowing him as a spiritual brother.

    May God richly bless his family and those who know and love him.
    Malcolm Powell – mobility shop volunteer

  4. The Board of Directors of Bridge Disability recognized the very significant contribution Bob Meyer has made to our ministry, as a Board Member, and most recently as the manager of the Mobility Center. To honor this, the Mobility Center will be named the "Meyer Mobility Center". New signage will be created and a future date set to officially set Bob's name on the place that he created.

    We recognize the contribution of Harry Woodrow and Mike Fallon in the beginning and growing years of the Equipment ministry. When we relocated from Kirkland, Bob Meyer established this new location in November of 2007. Since that time, the production of the center facility has nearly doubled in production and distribution of reused "recycled" durable medical goods. Bob also formed relationships with six other charities to share equipment around the globe. He created an new on-line inventory system, and set a standard for efficient service to more than 2000 people annually. More than all that, Bob shared God's love with each of us, and thousands more through this work here at Bridge.

    Jack Staudt - Executive Director,
    Bridge Disability Ministries


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