In the memory of Bob Willis, 1959-2007

Dave Dickie

Bob.  One constant in my life for 30 years.  Other people change, get married, have kids, become workaholics, climb the corporate ladder, win the brass ring.  Bob, he was happy enough the way he was.  There were a lot of times I wondered about that, contrasted Bob's path in life and mine.  It did have a way of making you evaluate the choices you've made.

Stories about Bob.  Well, he was quick witted, and came up with some truly original one-liners.  There is one of his comebacks that I've retold for over twenty years now; at a science fiction convention, we were at lunch with some relative strangers, and Bob ordered a hamburger.  One of the individuals looked at him and said, sneering, "it's immoral to eat meat." Bob immediately quipped back, "hey, buddy, at least my dinner had a chance to get away." 

Bob introduced me to Quake II.  That doesn't sound that significant, but it was my first real foray into stand alone computer games and a long term habit of playing first person shooters.  This was back in the days when I was regularly flying out to DC from California... I would go visit him a every other month or so when I was out there on business trips.  His place was always full of stacks of games, usually open and with the pieces spilling out and mixing together, anime posters, three or four computers precariously perched on rickety furniture or stacks of books.  Always something interesting to look at.  Paradise. 

One time at RPI, Bob told me he was so ticklish, it hurt.  I responded in the typical college student fashion... I started tickling him, and he punched me in the nose so hard it bled. 

And a inside gaming joke... Bob once ran a expedition using a RPG rulebook called "Simian Conquest."  It was about ten pages long, with cardboard covers.  I don't remember it well, but somewhere along the line, my ape was named "Mel Garkk, Ape Prostitute," after a Saturday Night Live spoof running in the late seventies.  That turned into another 30 year long joke, the context completely lost, but just remembering those times enough to make us both laugh.

Bob introduced me to the TGIF restaurant chain, which I didn't realize was a chain until much later.

Bob found a book in the Folsom library for a Humanities class about humor, where it had page after page of dry, serious analysis about the joke "What time is it?"  "Now?"  "Yes."  That was good for nearly thirty years of laughs.

Bob liked to tell a story about someone playing a on-line RPG in Korean from an internet cafe that killed another player who turned out to be the Korean equivalent of Yakuza (I know because he told it at the 2001 RPI reunion, and I remembered him telling it before).  He would always finish with "and I can just see it, the large, black sedan pulling up to the internet cafe, the young punks in sunglasses walking through the door, and one of them asking in a booming voice, "Which one of you is the WIZARD?"

Bob's memorial to his mother was touching and poignant and spoke of many small things that make a person a unique individual, and I wished I had done as good a job remembering what was important when my mother passed away.

And another little gaming tidbit... when "All your bases are belong to us" suddenly hit the mainstream as an example of bad Japanese game ports and general translation gaffs, I remember thinking "Geez, Bob Willis told me about that years ago." 

And, looking back on it, it's kind of funny, all these disconnected dots over thirty years that don't make any discernable pattern, and many more that you know would bubble to the surface if you sat down and chatted with him, and you think, "that really doesn't sum the guy up."  But, really, what can?  

So, my epitaph for Bob.  Bob, good friend, avid gamer, funny guy, ex-King of the SF&F games club at RPI.

I feel like a piece of my life has gone with him.


(Cosmic Wimpout image provided by Jeff Goldsmith)

Cliff Hong

I don't know if you remember me. I'm a friend of Bob Willis' from high school. I used to visit Bob and Mark Gaylo once or twice a year up at RPI (I was, and still am, down here on Long Island). The last time I saw you was probably at a science fiction convention sometime in the '80s).

I just heard yesterday from Mark about Bob. The last time I was in touch with Bob was about a month ago,
probably just days or a week or so before he died. It had somehow just never occurred to me that something
like this could happen. I always thought that we'd have more time. I somehow always imagined that, 20 or
30 years from now, we'd be old guys still talking about science fiction, women, gaming...

I just flashed on something from long ago that you might enjoy. Bob was recounting something from a gaming session - you had been playing, too, and were right there as he told what happened - and he described what happened to "Dave Sitting Duckie." Remembering that,  and other stuff (lots of other stuff), makes me chuckle. He was always saying stuff that had us laughing; well, you know as well as I  do.

Thank you for the stuff on It's nice to be able to read your tribute, and to see pictures of everyone. Ah, I just noticed the "Sitting Duckie" reference. I  somehow didn't realize - or forgot - that it was an established  nickname.

It's somehow very difficult to get used to the idea that Bob is gone. It's a very strange though reality has completely shifted somehow...and yet the rest of the world is still just going on as it always has, as  though nothing had happened...

 Best wishes,


Brad Johnson

I had a difficult time trying to put all of this down in print. I kept having problems trying to figure out how to logically present my recollections of Bob. Then I realized that would not be very Bob-like. And so in my own disjointed fashion I begin….

Bob was always a puzzling person to me. He seemed to be a free spirit that somehow managed to do so many cool things that I couldn’t do myself. And yet at the same time he was the unmoving rock of stability that lived in the same place for many years between moves and even then moved to only a few miles away from the previous residence. Fortunately, that made him easy to find.

The most fascinating thing about him was his encyclopedic knowledge of bizarreness and obscurity. He could quote entire scenes of such diverse material as ‘Flesh Gordon’ and ‘Cerebus the Aardvark’ without even breaking a sweat. If you asked him the contents of ‘Space Gamer’ issue #6 he could probably recite the table of contents. When listening to him he could trigger memories that I hadn’t thought of in years. I always wondered if those thoughts continuously bounced around in his brain.

His keen memory ability for remembering things in such an orderly fashion was in contradiction to near total lack of general housekeeping and organization skills. His mountainous towers of gaming material made it nigh near impossible to navigate through his apartment without worrying about spilling over one of the precarious piles of books. I won’t even mention his apartment’s bathroom. Those of you who have been there know what I mean. I should have seen it coming from the time we were roommates in college, but he still managed to surprise me.

The guy liked to eat. This is probably an understatement. When I go back to America on trips I’m always surprised at the portion sizes. And whenever Bob and I went out to dinner the quantity of victuals did not hinder his gusto for eating. After his death this subject was the central theme during the stage of grief when I felt anger at Bob. I’m sure that his eating habits contributed to his early death, but man, he enjoyed it while he could.

And speaking of the five stages of grief, and hopefully without sounding like an episode from ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘Robot Chicken’, this is how it went for me:

  • Denial – It couldn’t be Bob! He was supposed to live on forever spreading joy and cheer.
  • Anger – Why didn’t he take better care of himself? That really pisses me off.
  • Bargaining – I don’t think that I went through this one. I mean, what can I bargain with? I’ve got nothing, and that really pisses me off. Whoops, still a little of the anger stage showing.
  • Depression – I was supposed to go back to DC in a few months for some work related meetings, but why bother to now? Hanging out with Bob was my only incentive to go. I’ll probably feel the full effect it when I do go back to the area. Hmm, depression and a little residual anger. What a lovely combination to look forward to.
  • Acceptance – I think that I am in this stage, although if I had been able to go to the RPI Bob Memorial Get-Together last weekend, it would have helped.

Things that I regret not doing while he was still around:

We always planned to have him come out to Japan for a visit. He was really excited with the possibility of being here for the World Science Fiction Convention this year, but it was not to be.

Visiting more often with Bob and his mom in Tampa when we lived in Florida. She was a great old gal and with Bob vacationing there it was even more fun. Both of his parents were great people. They even let me stay with them years ago when I had to occasionally visit the University of South Florida for my master’s degree.

Writing up that tontine where the last person alive gets all of the other’s gaming stuff. I probably would have tried to set up a reference section at the RPI library with all of his stuff catalogued in it. I think that his massive and historical collection would have been appreciated there.

Things that I will miss the most:

Gaming weekends whenever I had to go to DC for business. For the last ten years this mostly consisted of computer and console games (two years ago it was Halo on his ultra-huge widescreen from eight feet away). He always managed to hook me on at least one game every time that I visited. The list included such classics as ‘Command and Conquer’, ‘Culdcept’, and even ‘Redneck Rampage’. He usually kicked my ass in the high twitch factor games, but I got him more often in the strategic level ones. I also seemed to do better than him in ‘ Redneck Rampage’, just don’t ask me why. I don’t know. I think it’s because he was laughing too much to best use the controller.

Those weekends weren’t always about the games. I also got to meet some of his local area friends and we would go out to eat. I think that I sometimes scared them with my stories. That of course, made it even more fun.
Favorite comment from my wife Marie when she saw the pictures of Bob on the memorial page, “He got better looking as he got older. But he wasn’t that cute when he was younger.” I think that when Marie first met Bob that she thought he was weird. Then again, she thinks all of my friends are weird. But she thinks that Bob was special weird.

Bob’s last written words to me: “Lesson learned: don't ask Bob to land the shuttle”.
As I have said before, fun is the best word to describe Bob. I knew him for almost three decades and it pains me to know that I will never see him again. His wit and sense of humor were inspirational. He was truly the easiest person that I knew to talk with.

I will miss him dearly.

You enter a dark cavernous conference room. There is a long table, whiteboards, notebooks, and countless piles of dice. The faint smells of dry erase markers and stale pizza hovers in the dank college office air. The fluorescent light above you flickers briefly.

You see hidden in the shadows the bright, laughing eyes of Bob. The renowned King of Games chuckles quietly– leafing through a stack of Dragon magazines. What do you do?

What do I do indeed?

Bob and I really didn’t plan to dress alike.

Alice Granger

Here are some bits and pieces, in no particular order.

Bob introduced me to SCA, and I think was a founding member of the Shire of Anglespur.

He and I ran in Mark's world a lot together my senior year, and I remember all the drawings he'd make, and also the silly counters. I had a hard time keeping a character alive, and one of Bob's panels had a beastie going, "When's Alice's character going to show up?"

He was at Rob Whelan and Maureen's wedding; and Kris and Laura's, and all of us gaming geeks sat together and laughed a lot.

We had a Barbarian Invasion of Washington, DC in 1985 and I saw his place; it looked like an atomic bomb had hit it!

All the times we "fought" with the stuffy Student Gov types, and how Bob kept his tongue firmly implanted in his cheek.

Long Live the King!

Eric Haines

12 people came to RPI this weekend: Rob Whelan, Rob Hendrie, Kris Backman, Sherilee Backman, Julia Belyung (age 6), Eric Haines, Shawn Bilodeau, Rick Shetron, Mark Christensen, Marty Connell, John Croll
(?sp?), and Dave Dickie.

We met at Holmes and Watson, and everyone (almost---you know who you are, you rebel you) ordered a "3/4ths Missing," roast beef on rye. A toast was made to King Bob, stickers were distributed. Some of us walked up the approach and stickerified as they went. We met up at the Student Union and parked ourselves in a room (thanks, Mr. Whelan!), which by coincidence was next to the meeting of the current games club at RPI.

We chatted with them, Dave put a large poster of Bob in their games club locker (which I think confused them, but that's OK), then played games: Japan won World War II, and most of the rest of us played a boardgame simulator of a computer first-person shooter, "Frag". We played this
until we somewhat fried. 4 pizzas were ordered from the Rathskellar (surprisingly good!), and we spent the evening talking and looking at pictures from RPI days.

We all dispersed around 9 pm, most of us drove home that night. The Backmans and me (Eric) stayed overnight; they in the beautifully appointed and affordable Olde Judge Mansion B&B (though in a sketchy
part of Troy), me in the Best Western Rensselaer Inn (aka the old Holiday Inn), which was kinda run down yet more expensive - bonus. Rob (Bob) Whelan was going to stay over, but his wife may have broken her
ankle so he also went home. A third option (not found on Expedia) is the brand new Franklin Square Inn & Suites - no idea what costs run there.

Why mention the lodgings at all? Because we were very psyched about how pleasant it was to get together again, and we'd like to do it every year around this time, with the idea of staying overnight so that we could
hang out longer.

Anyway, I'm glad I stayed over: a 3.5 hour drive home in the dark on a sleep deficit would have been bad. As it was, I called up Mark Gaylo, an RPI person some of you know, who I hadn't talked to in decades, so that
was pleasant. In the morning I walked around Troy and RPI for about two hours, planting maybe eighty stickers as I went. I also planted a hitchhiker letterbox in honor of Bob: I visited the Backmans at at the Old Judge Mansion (Sherilee caught a cold, so she wasn't up for walking around), then drove on home.

A good time, Bob would have enjoyed it,


Bob, circa 1977, hanging out in the "SF&F Games club corner" in the Student Union, reading a game manual (of course).
Bob, circa 1978, Society for Creative Anachronisms (SCA) party; with Risa Stewart, Flint Webb, Mario Tavares, Sandy Stewart, Mark Gaylo, and others (thanks to Risa Stewart for remembering everyone and labeling the photo)

Bob, was, of course, the King of the Fantasy  and Science Fiction Games Club.  These photos come from a time when there was a certain amount of angst on the part of the student government, as the F &SF crowd inhabited (or infested) "their" corner of the building, and was exacerbated by the club's decision to blow off recognition by the executive board despite having our funding cut (we made more showing movies).  In any case, someone took it upon themselves to make the relationship between the club and student government clear to all.  On top, you have the game club, reading:

Next is a diagram that shows how the various government arms related to one another, where someone has hand written in the club with appropriate tags (rags on the Student Senate, ignores the Executive Board, sneers at the Class groups).

Finally we have the bulletin board showing the different organizations with the F&SF games club mysteriously inserted into the middle.

It didn't last long, but it was pretty funny.

(Thanks to Jeff Goldsmith for sending these)

Bob, circa 1979, wearing his "Pope Innocent the III" hat... a common theme for the next year or two, in the Student Government office.
Bob, circa 1980, In the Stackwyck apartment on the RPI campus, with a very young looking Sherilee Host and Risa Stewart.

And what's that Bob is holding?

Bob, circa 1981, Graduation Day, with Jeff Goldsmith, Larry Finkel, Brad Johnson, and I.
Bob, circa 1981, Florida trip to visit me (in Nuke Power School) and Mario Tavares, with Paul Regan
Bob, circa 1982, Boskone Science Fiction Convention with Eric Haines and Chris Keavney in attendance (and possibly others... I can only name people in the photos), sporting his new beard
Bob, circa 1982 or 83, party at Rich Shetron's house.
Bob, circa 1984, a rare shot of the inside of his old condo in Silver Spring, Maryland, with Mario, Eric, and myself.  Looks like Wizardry on the Apple, but I remember playing M.U.L.E. on a console.
Bob circa 1989 at the Wedding of Eric and Cathy Haines (along with Marty Connell)
Bit of a gap in photos here... I saw Bob a few times over the intervening years, but never when I had a camera.  This is the 20 year RPI reunion in 2001 with Marty Connell, Brad Johnson, and me.


You can see a movie with Bob in it at the reunion here (144 meg, it may take some time to download; there's a better one at the 2006 reunion).

And another shot from the reunion
And, 5 years later, the 25th  RPI reunion. 



You can see a movie of Bob at the reunion here (44 meg) (mostly in the middle and end)

And a shot at Holmes @ Watson... still a great place 30 years later... with Eric Haines, Brad Johnson, and Shawn Bilodeau. 
A recent photo of Bob (thanks to Constance McClary for donating it)

A note Bob wrote about his mother's death that I thought was touching...


This is just a quick message to let you know my Mom passed away around 1pm today, July 3rd, 2007. I apologize for the mass mail but I wanted to get the news out as soon as possible, and will try to follow up individually. Feel free to pass along the information to anyone you think might want to know.

My Mom died from complications due to her cancer. She was a tough lady and kept going as long as she was able. I was with her at the hospital when she passed away peacefully. She was 82 years old.

She often remarked that she had a good life, and particularly enjoyed her time in Florida since moving here with my Dad back in 1983. They went on cruises, made some good friends, and generally enjoyed life. After my Dad passed away she continued on in the house she loved so much. As she got older she became less able to get around, but her friends and neighbors took good care of her.

She loved chocolate ice cream, particularly Triple Chocolate Dove Bars. She had incredible luck with scratch-off lottery tickets. She would watch absolutely anything that had Anthony Hopkins in it. She would always say what was on her mind and could be uncommonly blunt if someone was trying to take advantage of her; telemarketers never had a chance with her. In a remarkable about-face of her long-standing opinion, she said she like my hair long after all. She smoked all her life, but hadn't had a cigarette since she became sick and remarked more than once that she was surprised that she didn't miss them at all. She was a wonderful Mom and I'll miss her.

--- Bob


And a link to the 2007 Bob Willis Memorial get-together