In June, Bob Bennett, RDA’s Founder and Chairman of the Board, died suddenly in a hit-and-run accident in Oakland. The past three months have been difficult, and Bob has never been far from our thoughts. This weekend is Bob’s memorial service and we wanted to use this space to share some memories about the type of person he was. Many of his friends and acquaintances from his decades-long work to improve our communities have graciously agreed to contribute their thoughts. You will find these memories below. They are a testament to Bob and show how his legacy will live on as an inspiration to all of us at RDA.
I loved being around Bob because of his amazing intellect and wicked sense of humor. I met Bob and Pat around 1990, when I opened a community-based nonprofit in Oakland using federal grant funds. I was completely naïve about both grant management and county politics, but I could depend on Bob for great insight and practical guidance. He helped me analyze the bureaucratic obstacles and find a way to succeed. We worked together on several projects and I always learned a great deal as we grappled with problems and figured out solutions. I still quote Bob to colleagues as we puzzle over next steps.
One of the things I most appreciated about Bob was his commitment to social justice and impatience with the petty obstacles that those efforts encounter every day. The latter inspired some of his unrepeatable comments, and I sometimes smile at the memories while trying to look professional in lengthy meetings.
Of course Bob also loved children and animals, and he tried to make their worlds better every day.
He was a visionary and we will miss him greatly.
East Bay Community Recovery Project
Hey Bob! I want to share a few words about your lasting impression on me, and don’t let it go to your head!
I remember my first encounter with Pat and you in San Jose in the 1990s. I knew I had a comrade in arms by the time you left the office. I loved your passion for correcting inequalities and injustices. I particularly liked your no-nonsense way of communicating the issues and taking action (especially when balanced with Pat’s more analytical, yet equally passionate approach). You always brought a sense of urgency to the work. You felt we could make a difference and that every day counted. You attacked the work with your expertise and, of course, data systems magic. I always knew I could count on you!
I know that your often direct way of communicating could rub some folks the wrong way, but that was their loss! We accomplished a lot of good projects over the years and San Jose youth are better off for thanks to you, Pat, and all of your colleagues at RDA.
I think of our last brief discussion over a beer at your son’s bar and grill. We were catching up and you had been beginning to explore retirement. We talked about getting together, and I am sure we would have planned a camping trip or something this year.
I just want you to know that you made a difference and added value and quality to other people’s lives. That is something to be proud of, brother! And of course, I want you to know that I’ve got Pat’s back!
I’m so deeply honored to have known Bob! It is common knowledge that he was incredibly smart, but equally important is that Bob cared profoundly about his family and friends, his colleagues, and the world around him.
And Bob was fun and irreverent in the very best way! One year, we had a pool party in Lafayette for his birthday. I think at some point Bob ended up in the pool, although I can’t say if that was before or after the live entertainment (his son Josh’s band) resulted in a visit from the local police. Those were good times.
What a wonderful gift it was to know and work with Bob. He was such a warm, charismatic leader and visionary.
After more than a decade with Felton/Family Service Agency of San Francisco, Bob retired in June 2015 after its metamorphosis from a local community-based organization with 170 employees into one that now serves 12,000 consumers a year with a 450-person workforce. His innovative vision is changing lives, as we have grown to provide services in multiple counties throughout California and have influenced service models around the world. This year alone, Felton/FSA has hosted delegations from China, Japan, and Germany who visited with hopes of learning from our service models and receiving training to transform their care systems.
Bob’s legacy at Felton/FSA continues to grow as it is reflected in all of our work and belief that faith can convert fear into certainty, disease into health, and despair into hope. This 15-year journey is evidence that awareness, plus faith, plus action, equals transformation.
I had the gift of having an intimate, intense, and rewarding partnership with Bob for 15 years. It was a joy being a friend of one of the most brilliant, caring, loving, and dedicated men I’ve ever met. What an extraordinary gift Bob was in my life and his legacy continues to change the world for those in need!
Chief Executive Officer
Felton Institute – Family Service Agency of San Francisco
Bob had an exceptional ability to read people, and he was generous in sharing what he considered to be an individual’s strengths. For example, early in my work with Felton/FSA, he told me that I had talent in developing programs, which I’d never really considered before. This gave me the confidence to pursue this area, and I was always grateful to Bob for that. Bob also used to make us all laugh with his frequent references to ancient history, which were more often than not right on target. Perhaps most significantly, the staff at the agency all felt Bob’s genuine drive and commitment to help those in need. He sincerely wanted to make a difference, and he did.
Senior Division Director
Felton Institute – Family Service Agency of San Francisco
The last time Ann and I saw Bob was about two weeks before his death. He and Pat were over for dinner and in the course of the evening Bob talked about his new endeavor: taking a six month assignment with the Peace Corps to write grants for a non-profit organization in Georgia (the country, not the state). His description was typical Bob. He saw it as a new venture into an unknown area and he knew he could help. We talked about me visiting him in Georgia and I asked about living conditions in the rural area where he would live. He answered that he thought there would be hot water for showers. Bob did not necessarily prioritize glamorous travel. Looking back, it seemed to us that this was Bob wrapped up in one conversation. He was always looking for areas where he could make a difference to people who need help. During his life, he made a difference in many ways, in the community, with his family, and with his friends. We miss him.
The first time that I met Bob, somehow in the course of the conversation I mentioned to him that I had worked for a Classics Professor at Boston University in the mid-1970s. The professor’s name was William Arrowsmith, who was a translator of Greek tragedies into English. Not only did Bob know who he was, but he had read Arrowsmith’s translations, particularly one that I spent several months working on: Euripides’ Alcestis. In the more than 40 years since I had worked for Arrowsmith, Bob is maybe the only person who knew of him. I was amazed and delighted.
Then, once Bob retired, I mentioned to him that I was getting involved in competitive bridge and he said he’d be interested in playing with me. He hadn’t played in decades. So, quick study that he was, we played several times and we always placed in the top three teams. I was new to bridge at the time and we were playing against people who had played together for years. His strategic mind was definitely an asset in our success.
Bob and I also discovered other commonalities. Like having our meat cooked well-done and loving a great gin and tonic with just the right amount of ice before dinner. I miss Bob. Such a unique character with such a brilliant inquiring mind.