To many, Bob Hatcher was a legend. An amazingly energetic man who never tired of working and socializing, he fought hard against sickness with a zeal for life.
While Bob was being treated for cancer, his friend, Anna Cross, asked how he managed to be at peace. He replied that, every day, he tries to put on a big smile, let out a hardy laugh and do a little dancing.
Now that Bob has departed this world, people metaphorically refer to his Great Beyond as “a bigger dance floor.” Bob loved to dance. He loved to laugh. He loved to be with people.
Bob also loved to work. He called himself a hopeless “work-a-holic,” and he was proud of that title.
For 17 years, Bob was employed as a compliance officer for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. He opened the OSHA office in Kodiak.
Bob also served on the board of directors for the Kodiak Electric Association for 33 years. It was only natural for him to head KEA’s safety division. Bob developed a program which educated students about the importance of safety.
KEA CEO/president, Darron Scott, speaking at Bob’s memorial service, said that lives and limbs were spared due to safety precautions that were put in place because of Bob’s work.
Because of limitations imposed by illness, Bob chose not to run for the KEA board in 2008.
Another reason why Bob opted out of another term is that technology was growing so much that it was hard for a guy in his 80s to keep up with it.
Bob left it up to the more technical savvy to take his place. But he and his peers did the ground work that made technology possible.
A willingness to plunge into hard work was instilled in Bob at an early age.
His father, Henry Willard Hatcher, died when Bob was a young boy. His mother, Savannah, raised the children, moving from one farm to another, to earn their keep.
Bob grew up in the crucible of pre-Civil Rights North Carolina. He attended a segregated school. “We worked together with white kids; played together with them. When it comes to social activities that dividing line was there. When going to restaurants, you either had to go the back door or around the side, or they wouldn’t serve you.”
Since there were no busses for blacks in the area, Bob had to walk to school four to five miles.
“Busses loaded with white kids, would drive by and the kids would stick their heads out the window and call us (names) and spit at us. There wasn’t a thing we could do about it, except keep on walking.”
When Bob was drafted into the Army, he got to see other parts of the world. He served in Okinawa, Japan, during World War II, and then was sent to the Aleutian island of Adak.
Unfortunately, he still encountered discrimination and racism. He was assigned to segregated platoons, stayed in segregated barracks, ate in segregated mess halls.
In dealing with injustice, Bob chose the higher road of forgiveness. He chose to smile instead of jeer, to laugh instead of whine, to dance instead of trampling over those who had harmed him. It’s not to say that he didn’t speak out against injustice. He did, but he did so with dignity, grace and even humor.
In 1949, came to Kodiak to work as a machinist at the Ship Repair Unit on the Navy base in Kodiak.
Bob eventually began to feel at home in Kodiak. So much that he invited his high school sweetheart, Gaynell, to join him.
They were married at the civilian club with 350 people in attendance.
Through the years, Gaynell worked as a nurse, and volunteered for many organizations such as the Girl Scouts, the City Council and the Kodiak Historical Society.
After she was diagnosed with cancer, Gaynell helped established the local chapter of Can-survivors.
Bob was the first Afro-American to join the Elks Club and he and his wife were the first blacks to join the Pioneers of Alaska. Bob eventually became president of the Kodiak Igloo.
“I always tell people I was a lot of firsts,” Bob said.
Bob’s world fell apart when Gaynell died unexpectedly in 1999.
He decided, in his grieving, that he would not run for the board again.
But family, friends and other board members encouraged him to keep on representing the electrical consumers. Bob felt that Gaynell was pushing him too.
In 2008, Bob made up his mind not to run for the KEA board again. His health was deteriorating. Much of his time was spent in the hospital for treatment and recuperation. But by the end of the year he rebounded, recovering that zest for life that defined him.
Because of help from caretakers Jimmy Ramos and his sister, Sonya Ramos, and others, Bob was able to spend most of his time at his Sean Circle home.
He took trips with his daughter and son-in-law, Robenett and Nick Sagalkin, to Hawaii. He visited family in North Carolina. He attended annual KEA meetings and other community events and danced with the young ladies at the annual Hospice Valentine Dinner.
Wherever Bob Hatcher went, he attracted crowds of people.
His memorial service was no different. It required traffic officers. People filled the Elks Lodge at the repast following the service, paying tribute to Bob.
Ron Bryant, a close friend of the family, said one of the greatest honors was calling Mr. Hatcher, “Papa.”
Terrie Johnson thanked Bob for video-taping her daughter who died in infancy.
Mike Fricerro shared a humorous incident that occurred while Bob, in his position as OSHA representative, made a surprise visit on a roof Fricerro was working on.
Shy ladies thanked Bob for inviting them to dance while others stood in line to be his partner on the floor. Robenett and her children, Tyler and Shayla, thanked him for being a role model, a hard act to follow.
On Monday KEA holds its annual meeting. As people walk into the auditorium, they will miss Bob’s sparkling smile, vivacious laughter, his friendly greeting. Sadly, they will acknowledge that an era has passed in Kodiak.