Requiem for Dr. Robert Brundage

Bunchs Lunchbox  |  07/29/2009 7:00 am

This past Friday, I attended the memorial service for Dr. Robert Brundage at the Collingwood Arts Center. Dr. Bob, as many affectionately knew him, passed away on July 7 after spending weeks in the ICU at St. V's, the result of a June 22 attack in which a 15-year-old kid knocked him to the ground while trying to steal his bike.

Quiet Crusader
You couldn't live in the Old West End without knowing who Dr. Brundage was. He was everywhere, all the time. While I didn't know him well, I've been moved and saddened by his death.

Dr. Brundage served a number of community organizations and diligently attended almost every art and cultural function in town; yet, he was an inspiring presence for me for more simple reasons.

Without hesitation, Bob pedaled his bike to and from anywhere, all hours of the day and night. I saw him almost daily, moving this way or that past my apartment, or just gliding along steadily on the side o some road in the neighborhood, or downtown - or wherever, really - as I passed him in my car. Bob pedaled without an air of anything but necessity and the want to ride. He loved Toledo, he loved the history, the buildings, the people, and he refused to let fear deny him access to any of it. It was not a crusading mission; in fact, I'd bet Bob was unaware that someone like me saw him as brave. He quite simply, and very quietly, rode his bike. Yet, he was, to me, a beacon of hope. I saw in Bob's rides such a simple revolution: an uncomplicated solution to automobile and public transit frustrations, a pleasant ignoring of the divisiveness of media reporting and neighborhood/cultural stereotyping, and - above all - a way to slow down, relax and exercise in the same breath, and a way to become more connected and familiar with the community in which you live.

The Politics of Silliness
Dr. Brundage was a kind, gentle, quirky, and brilliant man, all rolled into an inquisitive mind and a friendly smile. He put those aspects of his personality at the forefront, and remained steadfastly himself otherwise. I find inspiration in Bob's confidence to simply be himself, because we live in a world that makes it quite easy to forget, or to ignore.

In his wild beard and bicycle helmet (or happily donning a pot as Johnny Ginkgo Seed), draped in ill-fitting, sometimes tattered clothes, Bob earned the respect of some of the most distinguished leaders in our area. Sure, at times he was mistaken for a homeless wanderer, but at the end of the day, he'd earned the respect of distinguished businessmen and women and countless community and political leaders. How? He earned respect by being himself (I suppose it helped that he was such a good and smart man). Bob was as thoughtful, disciplined, educated, successful, and reputable as anyone, yet more confident than most. In a world that too often suggests the opposite, Dr. Bob knew that he did not need to look like an accomplished cellist to be one, he did not need to look like a doctor to be one, he didn't need a snappy suit and fresh haircut to be a wealth of information to and a tireless worker for his community. In Bob's mind, the community is more united without those social prescriptions and expectations.

And wasn't he right? Dr. Bob's memorial service filled an auditorium with hundreds of people joined together in song to remember his joy and kindness - hundreds of people together more diverse than the average city-wide festival, people of all colors and of all cultures, the rich and the poor, young and old, businessmen and bohemians, professionals, politicians, activists, vagabonds, doctors and drunkards alike all gathered to pay their respects to the legacy of Dr. Robert Brundage.

Lessons Learned
While it's an indescribable injustice that such a kind and gentle man should be brought down by such violence, I think it is important to remember this simple lesson that Bob left us in his wake: In confidence of our individuality and eager encouragement of that of others, we can find togetherness as a community, and success for ourselves.

Exactly one month to the day before he passed - gaining community-wide attention in every media outlet in the Greater Toledo Area, and drawing commentary from the dingiest of neighborhood streets to the swankiest of state buildings - Dr. Bob wandered the Old West End Festival wearing a cooking pot for a hat, delighting in weird stares and smiles alike. There's something very Albert Einstein about that, and it makes me smile.

Let us honor Dr. Bob in that way, not so much by going around wearing pots, but by remembering to never take ourselves too seriously, and remembering that no matter how much wealth, knowledge, or talent you possess or amass in your life, there is always room for silliness, laughs, and ice cream (a favorite treat of Bob's).

An Open Letter to the Spirit of Dr. Bob
The streets of the Old West End just aren't the same without you, Bob. We miss the slow creak of your bike, your endless knowledge of our plants and yards. We miss you. I only hope you can inspire us all to pedal our own days and nights away doing good for our community, racking up countless miles for your memory. We love you, Bob. Rest in peace.


Photo Credit:
The photograph used in this article was taken by Adam Dohm at the 2009 Old West End Festival. If you have time, visit his blog, It's Always Sunny in Toledo.

In a typical story, there would be a link here for more information.
In honor of Dr. Bob, who held a P.h.D in Biophysics from Brandeis University, and who was a whole-hearted and dedicated beliver in and crusader for agriculture and its benefits to us, here are links to the Toledo Botanical Gardens and the Toledo Area Metro Parks. And also, a fact page about Ginkgo trees, the oldest known tree on Earth, which Bob especially loved and appreciated.