Goodbye Friend

202 fancy & wb banquets 019We mourn the loss of a giant, Robert Shannon, Jr.  Bob Shannon meant and means that much to us.  He is a giant.  Bob was a real person who did what he did out of love and caring, not for money or fame or power.  I had the honor of knowing his humble and kind father, Robert Shannon, Sr., and I always saw his dad in Bob.  I saw the love of his children and Susan in him.

There are many things about Bob that we all know.  He was tall.  He was really tall.  He was a leader, Captain of the great Quaker City String Band for nearly 40 years.  He remains the most popular and best known of all Mummers of the Modern era.  Bob loved Mummery and he loved being Captain.  When I saw Bob, I usually said, “Mr. Ambassador!” He was a natural at connecting with those in awe of this tall (did I mention he was tall?), costumed man who looked like a giant among giants with his hat and huge back piece.  His movements were graceful for a big man.  He covered a lot of ground in a few steps, and flashed that broad smile and pointed that trademark forefinger right at you.  It may the only time you ever wanted a finger pointed at you.

All kinds of memories are colliding with each other right now, probably in you, too, if you knew Bob.  It’s been like this since Susan called today to say that Bob had passed.  Among the many thoughts, what can we do to console and be there for Susan, the family, and the band.

There are random memories of Bob, including that he liked to have fun, and that he loved Ireland and Galveston, Texas.  He was a Mummer historian, he was a friend, and he was also a great goodwill Ambassador for the city throughout this nation and across the seas.  He worked behind the scenes with TV and city administrations to promote and protect the Philadelphia tradition and help the city achieve its goals. I will never again get to greet him with, “Mr. Ambassador.”  I like to think it was our thing.

But, Bob was much more. He knew what friendship meant.  He understood that he could help a child grieve, an elderly person enjoy a difficult life and he would go anywhere to help his band, a Mummer family, his friends, strangers in need and his city.

Bob really enjoyed being a Mummer, and particularly when it came to his Captain’s suit, which especially in Bob’s era was special and often hidden from the public until parade day.  I’ll always remember the first time he said to me, “Hey, want to go upstairs and see the suit?”  Two grown men scrambling upstairs like it was Christmas morning and the only ones who got to see Santa.

Many of us will have thoughts, flashing little bits of memories, that we are pained to think we will never be able to experience again.  One of mine is Bob saying, “How you doing, pal?”  You see, he meant it.  He wanted to know.

To the Shannon family, thank you for sharing this goodhearted man with the City of Philadelphia, our region, with the countless hours in parades, in rehearsals, in visiting the sick and in bringing wide smiles to children.  Our respect for him is deep.  Our condolences to you are as tall as the giant who has decided he need not walk among us for a while.

We have lost a good man.  We will still see glimpses of him in the Class, Pride and Commitment of Quaker City String Band, in the good faith of his brother and sister Mummers in all divisions, in the strength of his family, and when we think of Philadelphia Mummery’s Mt. Rushmore.  You know, Bob Shannon, Jr. is there.