Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Remembering Bob O'Rourke

Bob O'Rourke passed away yesterday.

He was a great friend. When I first knew him he was the director of public relations at Caltech, then he moved up in the world and became the vice president of public relations there.

Bob called me on Jan. 2, 1991 -- my first day on the job as Pasadena PIO -- to introduce himself, welcome me to Pasadena, set a date for lunch and ask what he could do to ease my transition. He was the very first person to call me and I've never forgotten that.

His Irish sense of humor, impeccable professional demeanor and that unmistakable Boston accent set him apart from anyone I had ever known.

Over the years Bob and I spoke on the phone quite a bit, visited each other's offices from time to time and ran into each other out in the community alot. He always showed a genuine interest in how I was doing and what I was working on, and had an easy-breezy way of switching gears from mentor to friend at any given moment.

After being diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and while patiently waiting, longer and longer, for a lung transplant, Bob devoted much of his time and energy to promoting awareness of IPF locally, regionally and nationally. From KPCC Radio to the Today show, he did what he did best as a lifelong PR man. The oxygen tube seemed to become part of him and never seemed out of place during his interviews.

He took a hiatus from his standard Caltech duties and served part-time as interim CEO of Kidspace Children's Museum, shining a light on that lovely institution and bringing in donations through special events and his unique personal touch. He was also the special advisor on external relations to Caltech president Jean-Lou Chameau.

I spoke to Bob by phone and e-mailed him many times during that period, and each time he responded personally and showed no signs of self-pity whatsoever. In fact, he encouraged me.

Many people, including me, looked in on the We Love Bob O'Rourke page on Facebook for updates.

Finally the news came that he had been accepted for a lung transplant. Huzzah! It was a very happy time indeed, especially since Bob had waited for so long.

The transplant took place and everything looked good at first. And then his body began to reject the new lung. It was a stunningly horrible turn of events.

He was home the past few weeks on Hospice care and surrounded by his immediate family.

Although friends and family knew the day would come, the news yesterday that he had passed away took my breath away.

I will miss him.

A memorial is scheduled Wednesday, Jan. 4, at 2 p.m. at Holy Family Church. I'll be there.

Caltech has a nice obituary here.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful tribute, PIO, and background for those of us who didn't have the fortune to personally know him.

My sadness increased as I read this.

Bellis said...

Yes, I agree, it's a lovely tribute. I worked for Bob for eight years and it was a lot of fun, though we also worked hard and got things done. I never failed to be amazed at his energy, enthusiasm, and memory for names. Plus he networked on behalf of Caltech from morning to night. One of the first things he did on arriving at the Institute was to make sure there was a sign to Caltech at the Lake Avenue offramp. There'll never be anyone as devoted to the Institute as Bob was.

Anonymous said...

On behalf of Sandy and all of Bob's kids...thank you for such a nice tribute. You summed it up so nicely. Dad was really a man of the people and cared very much.

He is with God doubt making introductions and shaking hands.

God bless.

- Dan O'Rourke (son)