Pat Williams stood Wednesday night on the stage her husband performed on and declared to the more than 100 people gathered, “The show must go on,” even with him gone.
Bob Williams was a celebrated actor, director, musician and teacher in the area. He was also a husband, a father and a friend to many.
He died June 24.
His friends and family gathered Wednesday night on the stage in Havens Auditorium at Indiana University Kokomo to remember him on what would have been his 79th birthday.
It was a fitting setting — one chosen by Pat shortly after her husband’s death.
She called IU Kokomo Interim Chancellor Sue Sciame-Giesecke to see if the stage that meant so much to her husband would be available for a memorial service.
The interim chancellor didn’t even hesitate before saying yes.
“I thought, ‘Duh. That’s perfect. That’s exactly where it should be,’” Sciame-Giesecke said during the memorial. “I was in a lot of shows with Bob. Being on this stage brings back a lot of great memories.”
In fact, Bob was in the very first production performed at Havens Auditorium.
He was in more than 40 productions during his lifetime — many of them performed with the Kokomo Civic Theater.
That’s how he met Doug North.
“Back in 1959, Bob and I were a couple of obnoxious young men, kind of arrogant,” North said. “We weren’t really friends.”
They were rivals who were forced to work together on a show. And they just sort of clicked and formed an unlikely friendship, he said.
Bob would usually agonize over his parts and worry about whether he was doing them justice. But he never needed to stress over it, his friend said.
He always knew exactly what his dialogue was, and he knew his songs way before anyone else did, North said.
Sometimes those parts were small.
“He was always willing to take itty bitty parts if it would make the production go good,” he said.
North laughed as he recalled the time he and his friend dressed up like a cow. One was the head, and one was the rear. As they walked out on stage, the rear kept swinging around toward the head.
North said it was the most disjointed cow he’d ever seen.
Pat said looking back she doesn’t know how her husband managed all of those productions. He would perform and direct on top of having a job and a family.
The Williams family made it work, though.
“We somehow managed to fulfill all those dreams,” she said.
Bob passed his passions on to his son, Brad.
He wasn’t the father who taught his kids how to hold a wrench, Brad said. And if Brad had been the quarterback on the high school football team and had scored the winning touchdown at a game, his father would be there cheering him on. But he probably wouldn’t understand all of the rules, his son said with a laugh.
“What my dad did give me was a love of arts and literature,” he said.
Brad picked up his guitar Wednesday night and played “Fly Away,” a song he wrote for his father.
The song spoke of a man who loved his wife, a man who was a gregarious, passionate teacher.
Brad sang about a piano man whose piano has gone silent, a loving father who will be missed.
“He’ll always be my hero,” Brad crooned. “His love lives on in me.”
People watching on stage quietly wiped tears from their eyes.
Pat said her husband loved the piano, but when they moved to Bloomington after they retired, he announced he was giving it up.
His wife was caught off guard. He later told her there were so many talented musicians studying at IU. He would no longer be needed.
But he was called on to play many times.
His most meaningful performances came in the last year of his life, though.
In 2012, Bob spent a week in the hospital with pneumonia. He was very sick, very near death, Pat said.
She called him one day to see how he was doing. He said he was feeling much better because he played piano for the cancer patients on the fourth floor of the hospital.
She thought he was hallucinating at the time. She didn’t even know there was a piano on the fourth floor.
It turns out he wasn’t imagining it. And it was a gig he continued even after he made a surprising recovery.
He would play once or twice a week until his last performance there May 22 — a week before his brain biopsy, Pat said.
As he prepared to go into surgery, Pat read him a letter she had received from a former student.
The girl said she was sending prayers his way.
“You were such a terrific teacher,” Pat read Wednesday. “I just wanted you to know how much better you made my high school life. I was caught between New York and Indiana. You bridged the gap.”
Pat said Wednesday Bob was probably up in heaven wondering what all the fuss was about. And maybe he was playing the piano up there, too.
“I believe he’s now playing for a heavenly choir,” his wife said.
Meanwhile, his friends celebrated him.
North read a poem about their friendship. He choked back tears as he talked about the easy back-and-forth, give-and-take relationship they had.
His last words were simple.
“Good show Bob,” he said. “Great exit.”
Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.