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Goodbye My Friend and Inspiration

Today I discovered someone who has influenced my life immensely has died. We don't have close mutual friends so I can see how no one would have known to inform me. But that doesn't mean he wasn't important to me and that he didn't impact my life dramatically. It mostly means he was so humble and so special to so many people it would probably have been impossible to inform all the people whose lives he touched. It happened earlier this year while we were in China, in April, about a month before my own life began to melt down.

I am really devastated that I didn't know and had to find out through a Google search. I had just written to him a few days ago inviting him to the Pergolesi Magnificat in which I'll be singing in a couple weeks. I was so excited to tell him we were back in Michigan and we could resume our (too infrequent in recent years) visits consisting of hours sitting, chatting, drinking, and eating.

It was unusual for him to not respond to an invitation, one I'd send out at least once or twice a year so we could stay in touch, and I got a sinking feeling. He had some concerning health issues I knew of, and I searched the obituaries and confirmed he had died a few months ago at the age of 65.

Robert (Bob) Delaney was first my professor of economic history at Walsh College and over the years we had many opportunities to work closely together. One semester he agreed to be my advisor for my independent study in the arts and economics, another time he helped advise and edit an essay I wrote on the arts and the free market. A few years later after graduating he allowed me to student teach in his economics courses, which paved the way for my start in scholarship in earnest, becoming a professor and researcher at Walsh.  He is someone I came to consider a good friend and something of an intellectual Godparent. I would look forward to our meetings throughout the years with excitement, sitting for hours sharing coffee and a slice of pie or a meal and exchanging ideas, stories, emailing YouTube videos of operatic performances or interesting new articles, lamenting technological advances that pulled people away from these things. He is the man who introduced me to all the great economics texts, including Ludwig von Mises' Human Action, which I've been meaning to re-read and would definitely be reaching out to him to discuss it.

There is truly no one I've met like him. He had the kind of depth of mind, wit, and spirit you only read about in great historical characters or see in movies. But the difference was he was real: a living encyclopedia, endlessly fascinating storyteller, generous, kind-hearted, and often hilarious. Other than  perhaps my own husband I can also think of no one who was a more convincing defender and supporter of the importance of the arts (opera and theatre in particular), economics, motherhood, and faith. How fortuitous and fortunate that our lives would intersect around 2008 or so: he, an older bachelor, professor, journalist, and theatre critic, and myself: a young married woman who happened to be an opera singer, aspiring professor of economics and homemaker.

I have never forgotten a moment that changed me and has bolstered my spirits in times of feeling down about my life choices. It was during his class when we were making introductions to our classmates. I indicated I was pursuing my Master's but had just gotten married and quit my job to be a homemaker. Another woman in the class piped up, "What's the point then? Why are you even here?"

But Bob, who had a way of starting to speak with a pause, focusing his sights up and outward, and begin with a slow, "Well, actually..." launched into a solid, if not a bit biting, argument for the value of someone like myself, voluntarily unemployed, focusing on my family, with a diverse educational and professional background. His closing statement before continuing to teach the class is one I think of fondly. "Just think of all that she will be able to accomplish!" I remember that moment so clearly - to be completely validated and defended as a scholar and a woman by someone so eloquent and intelligent was a high complement. Eventually I'd come to find we shared a mutual love of the arts. My only regret is that I did not know Bob sooner in life so I could have spent many more classes and afternoons with him and his enlightening insights (and stories!).

He died too soon and had so much more to offer, but absolutely made a huge impact on the many people who had the pleasure and honor of knowing him: students, colleagues, friends, artists, musicians, and actors, and the many people in the Archdiocese and City of Detroit (a city he knew better than anyone I've met and had had plans to conduct research and write about from an economic historical point of view - a project which sounded so interesting and I thought could bring incredible new insights, with which I had always hoped to one day find time to assist him). I remember asking him about this project after his retirement and he hadn't quite found the time to get it started.

I'm so very sad. I don't want life to be too busy for people like Bob. I'm devastated he won't be coming over for lunch in two weeks. I was really, really looking forward to it.

When my father died a friend said to me, "Now you need to take on all that he was." I feel this call again as a reminder that when someone we care about dies, we cannot let all of them die, but try to take on those beautiful aspects of their lives so they can live on. With that, I'd like to make it my goal to slow down more, have some afternoons where I sit and philosophize and story-tell with friends, see some great live theatre and opera in Detroit, and read some Mises. And I'll be thinking of Bob when I do.

Goodbye Bob, you will really be missed. 


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