Although it was coming—he had stage four brain cancer diagnosed in February 2012—the fact that he lived so vibrantly and so completely for so long afterwards, that he was wonderfully beating the odds, it meant that his death on Tuesday came as a shock. Somehow, you just thought Bob was going to beat it.
These past three years, he kept going. He coached for another season. He got inducted into the U.S. Squash Hall of Fame and a dozen other awards flowed his way and he kept grinning and hugging and talking squash. He went on vacations, he went to weddings, he played with his granddaughters.
In November I went to the Princeton v. F&M match at Jadwin. As I talked with Gail and Sean, they said that the matches were streaming live on the Internet and Bob was watching from his bed at home. There he was, on hospice for weeks already, and he still wanted to keep track of his beloved team. Extraordinary. I found it so moving, I wanted to walk in front of the camera and wave and say hello.
On Monday morning I was thinking about Bob when I read obits of Ernie Banks. They both approached their games with tremendous enthusiasm and integrity. So I tweeted:
— James Zug (@squashword) January 26, 2015
The news on the following evening ricocheted around the electronic village that is the squash world. Within a few minutes, emails, tweets, posts, text messages, voicemails were flying. Here are some of the best:
Kristen Callahan: This is the post I have been dreading to write for nearly three years. Dear Coach has moved on. Selfishly, I never wanted him to leave, but on the other hand, we all want the very best for him. All members of the family have been with him this week, for which we are grateful. As I reflect on the past years, I feel both thankful and privileged to have been by Coach’s side every step of the way. Some people battle cancer, but Coach lived despite his brain cancer. The diagnosis of a glioblastoma on 2/26/12 was shocking and upsetting, but together we chose to treat this finding as a bump in the road, still determined to live life to its fullest, enjoying our time together. Coach’s pre-mature retirement was not in the master plan but it afforded us the opportunity to spend every day together which was, in fact, a gift, Understandably, many cancer victims respond with anger, but not Coach. Over the last three years Bob navigated through the ups and downs associated with stage four cancer – never once cursing the world for his condition. His bright spirit and wit lit-up the halls and rooms at Sloan Kettering during each and every visit. It comes as no surprise that Coach did not “throw in the towel,” for as we all know, he is a true competitor. His perseverance and perpetual eloquence inspired us all. He accomplished so much despite his disease: coached a full season of PU squash, enjoyed his first two granddaughters, participated in Scott’s wedding, engaged in activities where he could, and encouraged us all. Amazingly, his innate ability to coach, teach, and inspire never subsided. Thank you for helping to give Coach such a spectacular send-off. When Bob was able to verbalize his thoughts, he told me he enjoyed a remarkable career with a fairy tale ending — Episcopal Academy and Collegiate Squash Hall of Fames, the Collegiate Squash Lifetime Achievement Award, Bedens Brook Tennis recognition, endowed PU Squash position, Princeton Junior Squash honors, PU Club of NY Squash recognition, Class of ’77 Honor, testimonial emails, calls,and visits. Bob never felt he deserved the recognition he received. Rather, he credits the wonderful, talented people with whom he worked that made those honors a reality. Thank you, thank you. The boys and I are grateful that he closed his eyes knowing the legacy he leaves behind. Needless to say, I am intimidated by the challenges that lie ahead; however, I know Coach would not want us to bemoan but carry-on and make him proud. Your support and prayers will be immeasurable as we transition to a new episode in our lives. Please help us keep Bob alive by remembering what he lived for and how he helped us all to be a better person.
Paul Assaiante: Last night Bob Callahan passed after a three year battle with cancer. For me I lost a brother from another mother. For those of us who knew Bob, we were so blessed to share time on this earth with a great great man. Possibly the most honest, character large person I have ever known. Bob will be missed, but NEVER forgotten. Please keep his family and his lovely Bride (as he like to call her) Kristen in your prayers. We are all better for having known him.
Deb Hodes: They do not get better. He was and will always be an incredible person, an incredible friend, an incredible husband and father and of course an incredible coach. He hung in there longer than anyone diagnosed with what took him from us—a real trooper…always and forever.
And some tweets:
Sending my love to the Callahan family. Bob Callahan passed this evening. So many people will miss him….— Gail Ramsay (@TigerSquash1) January 28, 2015
Princeton’s Bob Callahan died last night. He was one of the most kind and generous coaches I have ever known. I will miss him so very much .— GW Squash (@GWSquash) January 28, 2015
RIP Coach Bob Callahan. A nicer, classier man, coach, colleague and friend you’d be hard pressed to find. You are missed.— Chris Sailer (@CoachSailer) January 28, 2015
The boys are fired up and ready to fight for it today in memory of Bob Callahan. This one’s for you, Coach.— Princeton MSQUASH (@PtonMSquash) January 28, 2015
Bob Callahan was one of the best human beings I was ever privileged to meet. When you spoke to him, nothing else mattered but your words…— Craig Sachson (@CraigSachson) January 28, 2015
“I really love watching your team play. They make us all proud.” Coach Bob Callahan, RIP. We know you’ll be watching from a special seat.— Courtney Banghart (@CoachBanghart) January 28, 2015
Bob Callahan – A great coach,in every sense of the word, and a true gentleman, has passed away, but he lives on in all the lives he touched— Beth Rasin (@beth_rasin) January 28, 2015
Very sad day for the squash world with the passing of Bob Callahan…a fabulous person taken too soon!— Jay Prince (@JayPrinceSqMag) January 28, 2015
Sad to hear about bob callahan. Played my world juniors in princeton in 98 when he was the director there. My condolences to his family#RIP— ong beng hee (@benghee) January 28, 2015
For more remembrances about Bob from his colleagues, go to
Craig Sachson: http://www.goprincetontigers.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=46886&SPID=4267&DB_OEM_ID=10600&ATCLID=209867021
Tiger Blog: http://goprincetontigers.blogspot.com/2015/01/rest-in-peace-bob-callahan.html?SPSID=46886&SPID=4267&DB_OEM_ID=10600