The Gift that was Robert

From Ron Howard, Robert’s father

Thank you all for coming. Thank you for the outpouring of sympathy and support from all who knew them and from people near and far who did not. I thank John, Cindy, and Eric and many others for all they have done and will do.


The great gift that was Robert…(never call him Bob)

Robert found and radiated delight in every idea, experience, and person.

His life showed that a man is so much more than his resume

Flashes of memory:

  • Trying to contain the unstoppable two-year old with long blond curls
  • Watching him build in summer school, with John, during the Vietnam war, under the supervision of a conscientious objector, a moving wooden tank that would hold both of them
  • Partnering with John to start the European candy store during our 6 month Winnebago trip to Europe in 1972
  • Creating his most prized memento of the trip by accidentally pressing his windbreaker into primer paint at the top of the Eiffel tower
  • Seeing him learn practical engineering while hopping up his moped in high school
  • Rebuilding car and motorcycle engines and three speed bicycle hubs
  • Sailing the Hobie Cat carried atop our motorhome Jumbo and sailing the San Juan islands
  • Making a sailboat remote-controlled using a fischertechnik construction set
  • Building and racing remote-controlled cars
  • Sharing the vicissitudes of his relationships before he met Ana-Maria, and the joy of his life after he met her and they had two amazing daughters
  • Learning about the innovative products he designed with his team for many companies
  • Talking about and working on our campers and 4-wheel drive vehicles
  • Seeing him redesign and remanufacture almost anything to make it better
  •                    — when Robert did it, it looked and worked great
  • Supporting me in my loss of his mother Polly and my second wife Joyce and encouraging me to find future happiness
  • Sharing his love for words, tools, and welding
  • Camping in Death Valley, Anza-Borrego, Manchester, Cambria, and many other parks of the West
  •  Hour-long phone calls that always ended with mutual “I love you”s
  • Always meeting and parting with a kiss

Robert and his family died doing what they loved. They lived a life with no regrets. If Robert had read about this accident happening to another family, he would have explored how to prevent such tragedies by improving the design of vehicles, their control systems, and the roads on which they travel. The Robert Howard family would have wanted no better legacy than to see their deaths as an impetus toward that goal.

Anyone learning of this event will realize that they have taken for granted the people in their own lives. Imagine how we would treat each other if we knew that those we care about might be gone in an instant.

I heard that when Buddha was asked, what is happiness? He replied, “Grandfather die, father die, son die” Buddha was right: No parent wants to outlive his child.

I rejoice in what I had and what I have.

Goodbye, Robert I will love you as long as I live.


The Palo Alto Heat Girls 12U softball team played in the California State Softball Championship in San Diego August 5-7th, 2011. They dedicated their participation in this event to their fellow Palo Alto softball league teammate Sam. Each girl wore a memorial patch with Sam’s name and her softball jersey number (#6) over their hearts in memory of Sam.

Ana Maria

Carla, Ana Maria’s niece

I miss you so much Ana; it has been 3 weeks, and I still cannot believe you are all gone. I carry you with me, but sometimes it is not enough. I love you all, so much. I wanted to include the words I spoke at your memorial, if only to reach out somehow…..

When I thought about what to say about Ana Maria, I realized that if I talked about what she meant to me, it would probably resonate with everyone who knew her. She was such an honest, open person, just wholly herself.

Ana was 13 years older than I am; she was born January 1, 1961. She was my aunt, but she was also my sister and another mother. Most of all, she was my mentor and friend. When I was about 8, I would look forward to her visits from college so much that I could not stop smiling the whole day. My face would ache from smiling so much. She would visit and make my lunch and put little notes in my lunch box saying, “I love you.” She would hold my hand until I fell asleep at night, tell me funny stories, and build blanket forts with me.

When I was in high school, Ana Maria moved in with my mother, sister, and me. We were a house full of women; even the cats were female. We had one male dog, Scootchie, who I like to say ran away because the house was too full of estrogen! What I remember most from those days were just the feelings of security, love and fun whenever I was around her. Ana was in her late 20s at the time, and she and my sister, who was then 8 years old, would spend a lot of weekends going to garage sales just to look at and pick up random silly stuff, like a huge stuffed purple snake. They called that “garage sale-ing,” and they did it just for laughs, which was totally an Ana Maria thing to do.

After that, Ana moved to a cabin on the top of Montebello Road. She was working as an engineer at Phillips Semiconductors then, but she also worked at the bookstore Printers Inc, because she loved books so much. I think it was during that period of time that she met Robert, and I cannot remember a moment when I doubted that they would be together forever.

Ana was such a smart, curious person. She was always wanting to learn, and she would pass that knowledge to me, in the form of books or cds, whenever she could. She had no limit to her curiosity; in fact, she never saw limitations or obstacles in anything. Instead, she always saw challenges as things she could solve or fix. When she and Robert married and lived together in Palo Alto, she decided to redo the furniture, and that is what she did. She took furniture apart, reupholstered it, then put it back together, and it looked professional. She told me that she learned the hard way to write down how she took stuff apart, so she could put it back together again.

When she decided to go back to work after the girls were in school, she took a part-time job. She enjoyed it, but when she realized she wanted to head in another direction, she started her own business. She kept the part-time job but also had the energy for her own business as well as be a mom and a huge help to El Carmelo school. She was truly tireless.

She was also so creative. She made the most amazing costumes for the girls; I remember one costume was a magic mirror; another was an alligator head. They looked like a costume shop had made them, and when I told her how great they were, she would just smile and say that she had fun doing it. She hosted art camp at her house and put on plays and fashion shows with the neighborhood children.

I think what inspired me most about Ana Maria is that she never gave up and she only saw the potential in people and things. I never saw her get discouraged, and I think that is truly amazing and awe inspiring. She believed in herself and the people around her, and she lived her life with grace, humor, and kindness. She opened her heart and her home to anyone who needed her. She was truly the best mother, sister, daughter, aunt, and friend that anyone could ever ask for.

I am devastated by this loss, as I am sure you all are. What brings me a little peace is to think of what she would want. I can picture her telling me to get up, get moving, and focus on the positive. She would want us to celebrate her life and to treasure what we have right now, which is each other. Most of all, I don’t think she would want us to be sad for long. She would want us to be at peace. I think of that when I think of her. Ana was also a very spiritual person, and she believed in angels. I truly feel like she is with me now, and that helps as well. When I see how many people she touched, I am grateful that I had her in my life. She will always be a part of me, and I think a part of you.

Thank you.

Ana, I am trying to listen to you, in my heart. But it is so hard. I think of you all every single day. I love you.

The Grace Grid

The Rev. Janet Wheelock
from the Memorial Celebration of the life of Robert, Ana-Maria, Sam and Veronica
July 31, 2011

By way of beginning, I have just a few words about this loss.  Words are a weak medium but we lean on them hard to help us express the inexpressible:  four precious lives gone from the world. There are questions which linger for which we have no satisfactory answer.  One is why, (if there be a loving creator and protector of the universe,) can such young, healthy, active lives suddenly end in a horrible car accident?  The second is, where are Robert, Ana-Maria, Sam and Nica now?

friends foreverWhat I have to offer is this:  This tragedy is not the will of God.  It is not here for us to learn something from.  It is a disaster beyond our understanding. There is no silver lining in this cloud of loss and pain.  Except in the floodgates of love that have opened from you to one another. This reveals that underlying all is what we could call the Grace Grid.  Every act of kindness, generosity and prayer our communal grief inspires lights up the grid.  It just takes time to discover all the ways it’s working supporting, sustaining, refreshing, healing the broken heart.  Every time you offer a plate of cookies or a ride or send a card or a check or give a hug or share a story the grace grid lights up – and it gets brighter.  Imagine how it looks, like flying over New York City or Toronto or Rio at night.

As to where our friends have gone, all world religions have their understanding of that and we rely on our faith traditions for help.  But as loss reverberates into the deepest parts of our being, beyond Palo Alto, across California, spilling into the world it is up to us to rebuild hope, to refuse to fear “who will be next”, to help our children accept that death and life walk next to each other. Ana-Maria, Robert, Nica, Sam are everywhere beauty and vitality, integrity and joy are found.

Thus our time together today is our modest human attempt at saying:  There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, Love never dies.  We are all one. Our connection on the grace grid continues long after we see, touch and hear one another no more.