Bob Walsh’s ‘Celebration of Life’ Event

Epilogue: A Celebration of Life for Bob Walsh was held Saturday, March 11 at the Impact Hub in downtown Seattle, attended by his son, Tim, and more than 300 friends and admirers. His long-time friend, one-time business partner and now president of the Golden State Warriors, Rick Welts, got a roar of laughter, approval—and agreement—from the crowd with this statement: “When it came to difficult challenges, Bob was dyslexic: He saw the word ‘No’ as ‘On!’…”
Other speakers included former Seattle SuperSonics Lenny Wilkens and Wally Walker, one-time TV personality Penny LeGate and his long-time protege and colleague in the OneWorld Now! initiative, Kristen Hayden, who helped arrange the celebration. Co-host Dave Watkins, also a former Walsh business partner, was emcee. Steve Rudman, author of the biography of Walsh’s life, Who The Hell Is Bob?” also wrote a touching piece that appeared in the program (cover pictured above).
By Larry Coffman

On one of daughter Melissa’s several business trips to the Middle East with Bob Walsh, when the host referred to “Mr. Bob” in his middle eastern accent, it came out “Mr. Pob.” And the name stuck, with both of us, ever after that.

In fact, the worldly Walsh was in the Republic of Georgia to receive his Honorary Consul credentials when he was stricken with a respiratory ailment. When it worsened after three days in the hospital there, he was airlifted to another facility in Istanbul, Turkey, where he died three days later, on Jan. 23, at the too-early age of 76.

Trying to summarize even the highlights of Bob’s remarkable life is akin to trying to take a sip of water out of a fire hose. It’s impossible, and many of the Walsh stories are implausible as well—but true.

From spearheading the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle to bringing Georgian cancer sufferers to Fred Hutch to be cared for, Bob was at his best against impossible odds. Few failed to wonder just how this diminuitive man, who never sought the limelight, did it!

My theory long has been that—because Bob was short, and appeared to slouch to become even shorter and had such a laid-back manner—he didn’t seem threatening in any business setting. In fact, in most cases, he, and his ideas, were welcomed with open arms.

I said, in most cases, because he had notable setbacks, especially two failed efforts to get Seattle interested in competing for the Summer Olympic Games and losing rights to three prime properties in downtown Tbilisi that he had been given in appreciation for his humanitarian efforts in behalf of Georgia.

Combine his uncommon stature and manner with an “act and ask for forgiveness later (if necessary)” mantra, and you have my take on how he enjoyed such success—in his heyday.

Recent years were less successful. In fact, they seemed to result in one dead end after another for his various prospective projects—from turning his life story into a TV series, to importing Georgian wine into the U.S., and numerous other ideas in between.

Gone were the days when Bob could phone a small cadre of high-powered cronies and raise the money for yet another of his promotional ventures in short order.

I first came to really know Bob when I served as chair of the hospitality committee when he brought the 1984 NCAA Final Four basketball tourney to Seattle. That event led Walsh to coin two enduring nicknames—“March Madness,” for the Final Four, and “The Emerald City,” for Seattle. He even had the walkway  to the main entrance of the Kingdome painted like the “yellow brick road.” It also helped that his big-time TV buddies, like Walter Cronkite and Keith Jackson, often referred to The Emerald City in their broadcasts.

All the new attention on relations with Russia would have been right up Bob’s alley. He spent lots of time there and his rollicking life included scrapes with the KGB and flights with drunken MIG pilots, not to mention two marriages to Russian women.

I’m forever referring people to Steve Rudman’s excellent book on Bob’s improbable life· titled “Who the Hell Is Bob?” And I will again here. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor.

Easily the most memorable trip of my life occurred in the Fall of 1999 when I accompanied Steve and Bob and nine more of his good friends to Tbilisi to check on the progress of his then-properties. We stayed in the compound of the late Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, no less.

That also was when Steve was in the process of writing the Walsh biography and, as we were bussed to various venues in an around Tbilisi, Steve, a consummate storyteller, would regale us with tales of Bob’s exploits. We also consumed lots of Georgian wine, and I can attest that Americans were the losers when Bob’s efforts to import it into the U.S. fell through.

Meliss and I—and countless others here and abroad—sorely miss you, Mr. Pob.