Santa will live forever through our own Rob Figley

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Published:

 

Yes, Virginia, there is a Rob Figley.

Christmas might still be three months away, but if you believe in Santa, you must believe in Rob Figley.

He was the Santa man.

A few days ago, Rob and Rudolph took the sled north. Sadly, Rob won't be returning. But, not to worry, kids, Santa Rob's heart and spirit will be with us forever.

If this gentle, 57-year-old man didn't have reindeer hauling him around, he'd probably have white doves flying him from house to house on Christmas Eve. He was a lover of life, white beards, red suits and good hot dogs.

And now he's gone.

A memorial service for Rob will be from 2 to 5 p.m. today at First Congregational Church,1220 N.E. 68th St., Vancouver.

• • •

I first met Rob during the holidays last year when The Vancouver Side roped me into being part of a holiday video. The subject was what some local folks think community spirit is all about.

Usually, The Vancouver Side — run by a couple of community conquistadores — gets the same ol', same ol' local folks to talk about life.

But this time they brought in Rob to play Santa, and that, my friends, made this video a huge success.

Why, at one point, when I was dancing with Santa Rob in the video, I knew he was something special. I knew Clark County had something special.

• • •

I would run into Rob around the community and grew closer to him. He was a fierce advocate of equal rights and strongly believed in treating people compassionately. Oh, if you were on the wrong side of an issue, he wouldn't mind engaging you in a spirited debate.

• • •

Then there was this exchange before he headed to Florida for a conference. What kind of conference, you might ask? Why, the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas. Honest! He headed the thing up.

Rob: Going to Florida on Monday for a working vacation. So, where is a good hot dog in Florida?

Me: "Just a little north about 1,300 miles on the Southside of Chicago."

Rob: "That's the problem with this 'quest' stuff. You really need to travel a lot ..."

His wit was always on display.

• • •

I first learned of Rob's health issues in May when I was trying to set up a lunch. He had won a basketball pool and a good Chicago Dog was on the line.

But my schedule was not cooperating, in part, because my wife had just had emergency surgery. And Rob commiserated with me.

"Getting old is not for the weak of heart. I found out last week I have a tumor on my pancreas. If it weren't for medical emergencies, we would get bored and think God is tired of us! Hang in there!"

That was Rob's modus operandi. Always thinking of others.

Rob and I — and his wife, Diane — finally hooked up for lunch. We talked about life, good times and the twists that happen to all of us. I found both of them thoroughly engaging. I didn't want the lunch to be over.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, and I headed back to work.

I thought about that lunch and our conversations and his handling of his medical problems when I heard of his untimely passing. His Facebook page was still active, so I sent him a private message the day after he died, knowing he'd get it somehow. It said, simply, "Save us a seat my friend."

I guess all good things do come to an end. However, that doesn't mean those who loved him will ever get used to losing him.

But, Virginia, remember. There is a Rob Figley. Always will be.

Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian's editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505, lou.brancaccio@columbian.com or Twitter: http://twitter.com/lounews