Cover photo for Robert Rockhill's Obituary
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1946 Robert 2021

Robert Rockhill

May 10, 1946 — February 16, 2021

Sheboygan

He talked to animals. Cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, whenever he went out to take care of the house and garden. He talked to them as equals. Asking it where it had come from, guiding it to where it was going. Over the course of my childhood, we had six cats (averaging about four at a time). Abigail, Momcat, Zoey, Sammy, Rufus, and Noche. Abigail and Zoey followed him throughout his entire morning routine. He spoke to them the entire time. Called them his little princesses. When he came home from a long day at work, they leapt into his lap. The dog, Mickey, and him had an understanding. He went out to smoke, and she went with him, to run around under his supervision doing whatever she wanted so long as he could guarantee her safety. It was an unspoken agreement, but it was to his credit that Mickey never strayed from his view.

He talked to his kids. He talked to them as equals. History, sport, engineering, music, cars, love, religion. You name the topic, they talked about it. Ironically, I remember asking him about the afterlife, he took a deep breath, and replied simply, ‘it will be different’. He played folk music, Irish, British, American, and he sang along to it. New computer? Test its music player. New car? Test the tape deck/CD player. Christmas morning? The speakers in the family room/living room were playing music. I was six by the time I figured out Dad’s favorite radio stations, I was eight or nine by the time I figured out his favorite records. Thanks to my Dad, Mrs. Robinson was stuck in my head, as was the Irish classic, Courting in the Kitchen.

I was a kid, I saw someone playing guitar on television, so my Dad grabbed his guitar and played and sung Puff the Magic Dragon. We drove a lot in his car, the radio tuned to the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Me keenly picking up my parent’s favorite tunes and memorizing them. He travelled a lot when I was a kid, it was a necessity, it was how he worked tirelessly and faithfully to ensure that my mother, brother, and I could have the life he dreamt of for us. So many nights alone on the road, so many nights eating late at night at the restaurant after he left whichever worksite he was on. So many nights turning up late at our home in a jumpsuit covered in whatever the machine he was working on that day belched out as he was trying to fix it. The ever mechanically minded Bob, the soothsayer of machines and the solver of puzzles.

Jeremy Brett was his Sherlock Holmes. I remember that Benedict Cumberbatch and Steven Moffat tried to reboot Sherlock Holmes into the famous/infamous Sherlock, and Bob would have none of it. He insisted on watching the 1980s Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes, every time singing the praises of Brett’s subtle yet thorough adaptation of Holmes. Bob wasn’t a casual reader of Sherlock Holmes either. Man loved it, read every book, every line. It fit, his mother, Elizabeth Rockhill, had been an avid fan of Agatha Christie. Some things run in the family. Bob also loved David Suchet as Hercules Poirot, loved Murdoch Mysteries, Death in Paradise, Monk, The ABC Murders, Ms Fisher Mysteries, Father Brown to name a few. An old school Christie or Doyle detective thriller? Bob was there with his wife of 35 years, Sandy, watching it religiously. His shrewd mind solving the mystery alongside the onscreen detective.

Elizabeth Rockhill, his mother, was all about mathematics. So was Bob. He instilled that into his sons, alongside the problem-solving mind. His eldest son discovered Bob’s old 1980s computer in storage. He took the opportunity to teach that son BASIC. His other son got into sport, he took that opportunity to teach that son his extensive statistical knowledge of every sport he watched. He glowed with pride when Taylor used his knowledge of BASIC and MS-DOS to solve computer problems and when Carter used his knowledge of sport to become a walking encyclopedia of sport across the English-speaking world. He bragged of his son’s talents every chance he got. At work, he hung pictures of his sons, and at family gatherings would describe, in detail, what his kids were doing. His family was his life. Even when they lived in entirely different parts of the globe, he made sure he stayed up to date on everything they did.

He had his struggles. But that only helped him to better understand the people around him. He was a proud recovered alcoholic. When people came up to him recounting their own struggles with alcoholism, he would proudly show them his Alcoholics Anonymous chip and his copy of the Big Book and tell them of his struggle, and tell them that if he could do it, anyone could. He was a proud progressive. Bob was a good Christian, maybe even a good Catholic, even if he struggled to define himself as such, he was also proud of the Quaker roots of the Rockhill family. Bob’s difficult to define yet constant faith was an inspiration for everyone around him. Mix that with his passionate progressive views, it makes perfect sense that no matter what problem you presented to Bob, he would not disown you, but listen with an open ear.

As his first-born son, I once asked him if I did indeed look like him and act like him. It was whilst he was working on his car at the time, without looking up he simply replied, ‘when they made me, they broke the mould’. At the time, I was upset because I was terrified that it meant I would never live up to him. Now I realise he was right. They did indeed break the mould, and the beauty of Bob was that Bob never wanted me to be him. He wanted me to be Taylor and Carter to be Carter, and he empowered us and inspired us to be the best possible versions of those things.

Bob went to the ends of the world for his wife of 35 years and his sons. No matter what was presented, he would be there to help and support them. He was their rock. Bob was, by every quantifiable measure, a good man. He went peacefully, as he wanted. Quick, painless, and surrounded by his loving wife of 35 years, and his kids (at least as best could happen in Covid times). He will be missed.

-Written by Taylor Rockhill

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