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.