By BILL YEE
How many of you remember the 1947 Danny Kaye film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”? For younger readers, Google the title. There was also a 2013 remake starring Ben Stiller.
Walter Mitty in both films daydreams of living a different life. In the case of the life of my friend Bob Wiessler, he lived a life that Walter Mitty would have dreamed of.
Have you had the privilege to meet a rare individual who has had a great impact on your life? Bob Wiessler was one of those individuals for me.
Bob has been a friend for over 40 years. He taught next-door neighbor to me at Marguerita School and was the first person who befriended me when I started my teaching career in the Alhambra Unified School District. Bob was an outstanding math teacher.
Bob was part of “The Greatest Generation” and embodied the ideals of his generation.
Early in my teaching career, Bob was a silent mentor. I learned classroom management skills by observing the way he operated in the classroom. And, in life, Bob was a great role model for me despite being 25 years older.
Bob embodied Midwestern values. He was one of the nicest guys without one prejudiced bone in his body. I used to tell him that he was born an American but was a true citizen of the world.
He was modest despite being a great athlete in his youth. He treated everyone with respect and I never heard him say a discouraging word about anyone. A frequent utterance by him was “If only people could live by the Golden Rule!”
Now Bob was not a perfect angel. He has told us many stories of his mischievous youth. In other words, he was a prankster.
Among his childhood friends was Jerry Burns, who was the offensive coordinator of Green Bay Packers during the Lombardi years and later became the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.
Bob served in the U.S. Navy during WWII. His bunkmate and friend was Patrick Moynihan, the future senator from New York. He told the story of how both of them had a great shore leave visit in Cuba.
When Bob was a junior in high school he was told by a doctor because of a spinal condition he would not be able to ever play sports again. Bob proved the doctor wrong! He was a member of the state of Michigan high school football championship team and later played freshman baseball at the University Michigan, assuming the identity of one of his classmates.
He was a member of the PCC (Pasadena City College) state championship baseball team. At one point he held the record for the highest batting average for a second baseman. Bob was a scratch golfer and, in his youth, considered trying to qualify for the PGA tour.
After he graduated from USC, Bob was the recreation director at Eniwetok in the Bikini Atoll during the H-bomb tests. He saw and felt the impact of the potential use of nuclear weapons and was amazed at its potential destructive properties. He hoped that no nation would ever use such a destructive weapon.
He had wanderlust. Bob traveled throughout Europe…Wimbledon, French Open, bullfights in Spain…Hawaii. Bob once saw two World Cup games in Europe the same day driving a Renault he bought in France. He went to Peru to teach English. This is where he met Judy, his future wife.
While in Peru in the late ’60s, he decided to drive back to Alhambra in a newly purchased 1966 VW bug. I don’t think too many people would attempt this but my Walter Mitty friend did. Not only that, after he retired, Bob and his wife Judy drove a VW camper all the way to the Arctic Circle from Pasadena!
What made Bob was Bob himself. He was a friendly neighbor, loved to tell a joke (G-rated). He was well known at Trader Joe’s in San Gabriel and was the unofficial greeter at the tennis courts at Live Oak Park in Temple City. When he met someone new he treated him or her like a long-lost friend.
Bob was never overbearing in his presence. His presence always brought a smile to one’s face. A contact with Bob made your day a better day.
My Walter Mitty friend recently passed away at the ripe old age of 94. (We would frequently tease him about his age. I used to ask him what it was like crossing the Delaware with Washington. Ha!) I told him that we would have a great party when he turned 100. Unfortunately, that will not happen. I will miss our weekly phone calls and the corny jokes.
He lived a good life and I will mourn his passing but celebrate his Walter Mitty life. He did it his way!
Bill Yee is a retired Alhambra High School history teacher. He can be reached at email@example.com. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.