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Bob Waldmire has died December 16, 2009

Posted by Ron Warnick in Art, People.
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Bob Waldmire, a beloved Route 66 artist and self-avowed hippie who also was the unofficial inspiration to Fillmore in the movie “Cars,” died at 8:30 a.m. today, according to a news release from Michael Wallis, co-director of the Route 66 Alliance.

Waldmire, 64, had been battling cancer.

More on this is coming tonight, when I have time to assemble the information.

UPDATE: Wallis and Alliance co-director Jim Conkle visited Waldmire less than a week before he died. Waldmire was being cared for by his brother and hospice nurses near his hometown of Springfield, Ill.

Wallis wrote today:

“We are so grateful that we were able to be at Bob’s side last week and have a final visit with our dear friend … Any time spent with Bob was quality time. He will be missed but yet he leaves behind a vast legacy of art that has has made a global audience aware of the importance of Route 66 and everything the venerable highway stands for and represents.

“If anyone person most typifies the spirit and determination that keeps Route 66 alive and has put the famous highway back on so many maps, it has to be Bob Waldmire. […] He is a poet with a sketch pad. Bob is the conscience of all road warriors out on the old road.”

Sue Waldmire, Bob’s sister-in-law and owner of the Cozy Dog Drive-In in Springfield, said Bob died “peacefully.” That report was echoed by Dave Bakke of the Springfield State Journal-Register, one of the first media outlets to report Waldmire’s death. In fact, Bakke had talked to Waldmire the day before, who was planning a party with friends and family on Thursday.

Bob’s brother, Buz, said much of the family was around him Tuesday night. “He was lucid and alert until about 11:30 when he took his medication to go to sleep. He never woke up, but he passed peacefully and happily.”

Here’s a very good blog post by Journal-Register photographer David Spencer about Waldmire, including photos from 1991. Remarkably, Waldmire didn’t look much different 18 years ago than before his terminal illness.

Bob was one of the most unconventional people I had ever met up to that point in my journalism career. […] He struck me as being completely satisfied with what I would describe as a spartan existence. With an oil lamp and healthy supply of rapidograph-style calligraphy pens at his side, Bob worked into the night creating artwork of his beloved Route 66 and his many travels on it.

This was posted on Route 66 News earlier. But, if you missed it, here’s a Chicago Tribune video of Bob in the final weeks of his life:

Here’s a Flickr photo collection of Waldmire, his vehicles and his work.

Waldmire had traveled Route 66 for more than three decades. But he really gained international attention when he owned the Hackberry General Store in Hackberry, Ariz., for five years. He eventually sold the store, which is still operating as a vital Route 66 attraction, and built a winter home in the mountains of southern Arizona.

But his celebrity continued to grow, culminating with him winning the prestigious John Steinbeck Award at the annual Steinbeck Awards Dinner in 2004. And he served as the unofficial inspiration to the VW minibus named Fillmore in the 2006 animated hit movie “Cars” by Disney-Pixar. The minibus originally was going to be named Waldmire, but Bob refused to let it be called that because toys bearing his name would have been placed in McDonald’s Happy Meals, violating his vegetarian principles. Bob’s decision potentially kept him from lucrative earnings, but he was firm about the decision and expressed no regrets about it.

From left, Bob Waldmire, Carol Duncan, Emily Priddy and Ron Warnick at the Ray's Motel repainting project in Clinton, Okla., in 2007. (Photo by Ace Jackalope)

Waldmire was well-known for being a devoted environmentalist and vegan. He gently admonished travelers to look out for animals while driving. He wandered up and down the Mother Road, mostly in a vintage Volkswagen minibus (fitted with a solar panel for auxiliary power, naturally), and scratched out a living selling his intricate pen-and-ink drawings, especially at Route 66 gatherings.

His artwork, which bears a resemblance to Robert Crumb‘s, hangs in many homes across the globe, including mine. The Volkswagen and its contents will eventually have a permanent home in Tulsa at the Route 66 Experience museum, which is in the process of being designed. His artwork also is being organized by his family to preserve his legacy and to possibly fund an art scholarship.

And you never knew when and where Waldmire would turn up. He ran on his own loosely organized schedule. So meeting him was an unexpected treat. I remember running into him in the now-closed Hillbillee’s restaurant in Arcadia, Okla., and buttonholing him about the “Cars” decision. He answered those questions in his usual laid-back and patient manner.

Sue Waldmire e-mailed this information after Bob’s death:

The family asked that I let everyone know that there will be a Celebration of Life on Sunday December 20th from 12-2 p.m. at Wilson Park Funeral Home in Rochester, Illinois. In lieu of flowers memorials made be sent to the “Robert Waldmire Trust” and sent to the Rochester State Bank 133 N. John St. Rochester, Illinois, 62563. Thank you for all your prayers and support in our time of need.

It’s fitting that Bob Waldmire would have eschewed flowers for his funeral. After all, growing such flowers isn’t environmentally friendly.

Bob said he wanted to be cremated, with half his ashes interred at the Waldmire family plot and the other half scattered along several select spots on Route 66, including off the Santa Monica Pier.

Before closing, I wanted to tell this story that Wallis told me after visiting Waldmire for what he knew almost certainly would be the last time.

Wallis said he didn’t cry in front of Waldmire, partly because Waldmire admonished him not to do it. But, also, Wallis said a memory kept coming to him about the last time he and his wife Suzanne visited with an old and infirm Lillian Redman, the longtime beloved owner of the historic Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, N.M.

Wallis said Suzanne began to cry in front of Redman. When Lillian asked why, Suzanne said it was because she wasn’t sure whether she would see Redman again.

“Darling, you’ll always see me,” Redman replied. “You’ll always see me on the road. You’re going to see me in all the old familiar places.”

With that memory lodged in his mind, Wallis, a former Marine, hugged Waldmire for the last time and said: “I’ll see you in all the old familiar places. Semper Fi.”

Waldmire smiled and replied: “Semper Fi.”

“That’s how I’ll remember him,” Wallis said.

UPDATE2: An obituary for Waldmire by the Journal-Register is here. A map to the funeral home in Rochester is here.

UPDATE3: The Chicago Tribune posted a good profile on Waldmire on Friday.

UPDATE4: Longtime roadie Dave Hoestra of the Chicago Sun-Times posted his musings about Waldmire on his Scratch Crib blog, including a great letter by Tim Steil.

UPDATE5: Redforkhippie drew this tribute to Waldmire on her blog:

(Photo of Bob Waldmire by Emily Priddy)

Comments»

1. Trevor Hilton - December 16, 2009

Rest in Peace.

Say “Hi” to Cyrus Avery and Lucille Hammons.

2. Rich - December 16, 2009

Your artwork was fantastic! A true Route 66 icon.

3. Wally - December 16, 2009

RIP Bob…a better friend Route 66 did not have.

4. Sal Paradise - December 16, 2009

Gone on to that great roadtrip in the sky.

Probably the last of his kind, as well. When someone like that goes, you not only lose the person, but what they stood for. He does leave his art, which took a snapshot of things that were. Yet, he was more in the present than most of us ever were, or will be.

To his family and friends, may his memory stay with you for a long, long time.

5. TOM WANKO - December 16, 2009

ALL I CAN SAY IS IT WAS A PLEASURE TO HAVE KNOWN YOU, AND A HONOR FOR YOU TO HAVE CALLED ME A FRIEND.

LET ME KNOW WHEN YOU GET THE ROAD STARTED ON THE OTHER SIDE.

TOM WANKO

6. ts - December 16, 2009

Too many angels in heaven tonight.

7. ts - December 16, 2009

Ron,

I suspect like you, there are so many words spilling out out of your face right now they will never really say what you want to really want to say.

God Bless us everyone. And God bless one of the most beautiful people I ever met

8. Dan in WI - December 16, 2009

Ron,
You did a nice job here, doing something I’m sure you’d rather you didn’t have too. Thanks.

9. laurelrk66 - December 17, 2009

Beautiful tribute to a truly beautiful man.

10. RT - December 17, 2009

If Route 66 truly is all about the journey and never the destination, Bob has lived the life of the Route 66 Journey more than any of us could ever hope or dream. Keep “FreeThinking” Bob and send us a map if you happen to get the time…

11. Scott Piotrowski - December 17, 2009

One of my fondest memories anywhere, anytime along Route 66 happened in Tucumcari, NM, in the parking lot of the Blue Swallow. Many of us 66’ers were up to the wee hours Saturday night / Sunday morning chatting and catching up. As everyone else filtered to their respective rooms, Bob (sleeping in his van on the grounds that night) and I stayed up and talked. And talked. And talked. There was not a moment of quiet between us, as there was just so much to say. We stayed up until 3am when I finally decided I could not stay awake any longer. Bob remained on his own time schedule, and when I saw him bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 3 hours later, he still seemed the same as he had when I went to bed. In fact, he was … he had not slept a wink. He and I and several others met Michael Taylor and headed to the WPA pool just outside of town for a tour. My photo of Bob swinging in the swings at the pool is still a favorite of mine – his smile exuded joy to everyone who sees it.

Bob, my love is with you, and I know yours is with all of us. I have always loved as you are – a part of our big family, our big 2400-mile long community. You will be missed terribly from one end of the road to the other, and in countless places in between and elsewhere as well. Rest in Peace, Bob, and may your travels remain a joy for you.

12. redforkhippie - December 18, 2009

Travel well, Bob … and try not to spoil “Tuffy” too horribly before I catch up.

13. Dave "66 Willy" Willman - December 18, 2009

I know that VW Bus in the sky is filled with some pretty wonderful
people including Bob Waldwire, one of the nicest persons to know in this life or the next.

Bob’s artwork hangs at our home fondly and not a day goes by I don’t think about him, and our first encounter in Hackberry on my first solo trip on 66. We shared a love of Mustangs I won’t soon forget. His Pay it Forward attitude is an inspiration to my family and I.

I will miss random magnets of artwork appearing on my Jeep at every festival and trip. Those magnets still adorn my Route 66 garage today. RIP Bob!

14. Bob Moore - December 20, 2009

Jim Conkle stopped by the studio just as I was wrapping up Friday’s show to give me the news. No matter how prepared we are, it is always a shock when the reality hits us. I’ve pondered for a couple of days about not seeing Bob again – on this earthly plain – and decided I’m not too happy about that. Sometimes it would be two or three years between visits, but that was all right because Bob would roll into sight, or his van would be spotted somewhere along the Road and we would pick as if it had just been the day before when we talked – and talked. The Road has lost a true ambassador, but thanks to his art Bob will live on for many generations of Roadies yet to come. Thank you, Bob, for being one of the reasons the Road will live on forever.

15. Billy Lenox - April 13, 2010

Just got the news today. Bob was a GREAT artist. I loved his work. I met him three times. In 1990, in Urbana, Illinois, at an environmental conference, I came across his van in the parking lot and was blown away by the focused artistry. I introduced myself to him at his booth and bought some postcards. In 1993, Bill Crook took me to visit Waldmire at his family’s farm. As I recall, Bob’s father had just died. Bob was also getting ready to relocate to Hackberry, AZ. In 1998, I saw him again at the national Rainbow Gathering in AZ. He was so fit. I recall thinking ‘I wanna be fit like that at that age.’ Sometime after that, I drove by his place in Hackberry but, alas, he was not home.

What a wonderful, unique spirit he was. What talent and dedication. He was funny, too. RIP.


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