the death of bob paquette

monday 30 may 2011

A man named Bob Paquette died this weekend. Don’t know yet whether it was on Saturday or Sunday. Don’t know how. Presumably these details will be forthcoming from the radio station where he worked. Our local public radio station, WFCR in Amherst.

I didn’t know Bob Paquette, but he was nonetheless an important part of my life, especially my own life, the one that a herd of slavering humans took from me more than three years ago…

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Now it’s several hours later, and the radio station has just given out more details. Bob was fifty-five, a gay man who left behind a husband (gay marriage is permitted in Massachusetts), died of “an apparent heart attack,” and did many more things in the community with his presence and his voice and his name-recognition than I ever knew about when he was alive. They still haven’t told us whether he died on Saturday or Sunday, and maybe that’s a little oversight they haven’t even noticed. They are reporters, yes, and should give us all the details. But they’re also his colleagues and friends, and they’re very upset. Their loss is on a completely different plane from mine.

The station has also sent those of us on its email list a photo of Bob. Finally, eleven and a half years after first hearing his voice, I know what he looked like. But now he’s gone.

In November 1999 I became a public radio listener. I could no longer afford cable TV, so I had turned to radio for sound and company, and within a year was so converted by public radio that I remain grateful to this day that financial duress drove me to the old fashioned (I thought then) notion of listening to radio when I wasn’t in a car. Bob’s voice was the second one I met as a new listener. That voice was beautiful, to my ear at least. And since he was the local host of NPR’s longest and flagship show, Morning Edition, I heard more of his voice than of any other at the Amherst station.

Over these radio years I’ve heard dozens and dozens of listeners call in during fund drives and say that their local radio personnel are “members of the family,” “good friends,” and other such phrases that describe bonding. And if such a sense of bonding can occur among people who have family and friends who love them, among people who are not drastically isolated and alone, imagine how much more these radio personnel mean to a person who is devastatingly all alone. I had my animals until three years ago, and that was a tremendous companionship, but in the realm of human beings, I have been for the most part unconscionably left alone by people since 1995, even by people who have professed to care about me.

Into this very deep void came the radio, and most especially the staffs of the three public radio stations I ultimately ended up using: Albany, New York; Keene, New Hampshire; and Amherst, Mass. Bob’s beautiful speaking voice, his sense of humor and his constant presence, the stability of it, were a huge part of what public radio poured into the void for me. His voice was one of my six absolute favorites on all of public radio, both local and national (the others, still living as far as I know, were Susan Forbes Hanson, Priscilla Drucker, John Montanari, Lisa Simione, and Mary Darcy). His voice every weekday morning from 5-9, and in the afternoons on occasional news spots, and paired with a co-worker’s during fund drives, was like a friend talking to me every day, a friend I could count on. His voice was a part of my own life, the one now gone.

Of course I feel the sadness that any listener who never actually met Bob, never knew him in any way but the radio way, would have. Fifty-five is too soon to go. I wince these last two mornings not hearing him talk to me over the airwaves. I can empathize with the amplified grief his friends and loved ones feel. But for me there is an element of loss that is unique, and is also, I’m fully aware of this, selfish: Bob Paquette’s voice and personality coming to me over the radio were a large mosaic tile in the larger work that was my own life. Many, many tiles were stolen from that picture in 2008. So many that the picture no longer exists in any recognizable form. Bob was one of the tiles I had left, since Morning Edition is one of the few radio shows I can still listen to now that my animals are gone. My grief is for that as well: one piece of the very few that remained to me now taken, leaving even less of my own life for me to touch in this new, barren existence that is mine now. Made more barren by the loss of a radio friend, a companion and stable constant whom I never even truly met.

I miss you, Bob Paquette.

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read…   Alan shartock…   Being toward death

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