Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bob Fishburn: His Life Mattered

Bob (seated), Sibyl (right)
There never were enough Bob Fishburns around and now there is one fewer. We're all poorer for the passing of the 77-year-old former editor, wonderful writer and generous supporter of his and his family's community.

Bob was one of those FFVs you hear about so often in these parts (that's First Families of Virginia for those of you not from around here), but he wasn't like so many of them. You'd never have imagined he was worth a fortune, but you would easily imagine that he'd give it away if he had it. And he did.

Bob and I worked as part of the local newspaper's reporting contingent in the 1970s and he was always one of my favorites. I thought it odd that a man with so much money would be an editorial writer for a small daily newspaper, but it was a passion of his. His was a newspaper family, owning the local daily for many years before it was bought in 1969 by the corporate interests of Landmark, which is based in Norfolk.

The newspaper was a local paper in every respect when the Fishburns owned it and the employees were treated like valuable human beings. (I noted that his obit in the local daily was written by somebody I've never heard of, demonstrating again how thin the ranks of veterans is.) I always appreciated the way the Fishburns, in general and Bob in particular, treated people. He was a third generation of the family that owned the paper (grandfather J.B. and his dad, J.P. both serving as publishers).

Bob was never a man of grand gestures that brought attention to himself. He was a subtle man, a humorous man, whose self esteem was solid enough that getting credit for his good works was not a priority. When I went looking for a photo to go with this posting, I could only find the one you see. It is North Cross School's photo and was taken when he was honored there for some grand deed. No other photos, though. Sad because he was a tall, handsome, genteel man and you need to see that.

His and Sibyl's special interest was the theater, but the entire arts and cultural community in Roanoke benefited from their generosity and their broad knowledge. Bob earned his degree from W&L and served a stint in the Navy before getting a little more education at Columbia and becoming a reporter. He worked a bunch of editing jobs and joined the editorial staff of the local daily in 1967.

He was a marvelous writer at a time when writing was a significant strength of the paper, and I don't know that he ever aspired to anything more than that in the business. He was one of those rare birds who finds a comfortable limb and stays put.

His community work included helping to found Mill Mountain Theatre and he was on the board of the Roanoke Symphony and the Roanoke Fine Arts Center. He helped open Center in the Square in 1984 (taking a leave of absence from the paper to work on it).

His generation of newspaper reporters included people like George Kegley and Bob McLellland who proved that good journalists didn't have to divorce themselves from the community. I can't imagine anybody ever accusing any of the three of being biased because of those interests. (Kegley is the only one who remains alive and he is still deeply involved.)

Bob worked in education, the Red Cross and the Science Museum, as well.

Bob Fishburn's life mattered. I can't think of anything better to say about a human being.

1 comment:

  1. I will miss Bob Fishburn and express my heart-felt condolences to Sybil and his family. With Bob's support nearly 40 years ago, he challenged me to push my boundaries to engage people in our community to explore fine art more deeply. I'm not sure, but I think Bob was an active member of MENSA (qualification for membership is a score in the top 2 percent of the general population on a standardized intelligence test). That alone has given me inspiration continue to test the boundaries of creativity and knowledge. Bob was also a wonderful "people person". I hope today's journalists will think about an revere his dignity.