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Touching San Luis Obispo

The death of a 'regular guy'

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New Times has seldom devoted pages in memoriam. We wrote about the passing of our founder and publisher Steve Moss about developer, cattle baron, and hotelier Alex Madonna about longtime SLO Art Center curator Arne Nybak but that's about it.

Charles Thomas "Tommy" Bobrink wasn't "important" like those three were. He wasn't a newspaper magnate, a captain of industry, or a cultural mover and shaker. Tommy was just a regular guy, a fellow who like many came to SLO Town for college and stayed. Truth be told, Tommy left no mark on the cultural, intellectual, or physical landscape of our community. Yet, when he died earlier this month at age 53 after a lengthy struggle with Parkinson's Disease, SLO Town lost someone very special, someone who left a different kind of mark: a deep, emotional imprint on the hundreds of young athletes he mentored and coached, and on the myriad friends he made over the years.

He was an only child, both parents (Charles and Frida Bobrink) long dead, a lifelong bachelor with no children of his own. His uncle Robert Bobrink's earliest memory of Tommy was of him playing in the backyard with the family dog, a collie.

"The dog thought he was human, and Tommy he must have been 3 or 4 thought he was a dog," Robert recalled. "Well, he walked in from the backyard sort of crying, his mouth full of hair. We asked what happened, and Tom said, 'She kept biting me and wouldn't stop, so I decided to bite her back.'"

For Tommy's friends, it's a story that makes sense. Ask anyone about him, and the first thing they'd say is how good-natured he was. Ask a former football or rugby teammate, and they'd tell you what a fierce competitor Tommy could be. When it was "go time," that was it. Tommy got going and didn't stop until the job was done.

His former Cal Poly football teammate, Miguel Paredes, remembered Tommy as very laid back and low key off field, but as a "different person" on the gridiron.

"Tommy was a defensive end: big, strong, fast. When he went out there, we didn't lose much [ground]," Paredes said.

Talk to a few of his female friends, and they'd paint a picture of a man who was, as Maria Bolyanatz said, "a girl magnet! Fun to hang out with even when he wasn't feeling good.

"I'm a nurse, and he'd call me sometimes when he was sick [from Parkinson's], but he always stayed positive even when feeling physically bad," she remembered.

Carol Pennington echoed those sentiments, calling Tommy the "most special person I've ever come across. He had a lot of integrity. You could rely on him, and he was an honest-to-goodness true friend, just the kindest person."

"I always appreciated the fact that he was really positive, never the type to complain even when I knew he was in pain or uncomfortable," said Jenny Anthony. "He seemed to be more interested in what others were doing. He always had a compliment, was a good listener, gave good advice."

I think those who will suffer the loss of Tommy most are all the kids who won't have the benefit of his coaching. He was only 53, and I know if able, he would have kept coaching into his 80s.

Tommy coached Rollie McCormick's two boys, and he and McCormick became close friends. In fact, Tommy asked McCormick to execute his will, which left all assets to local youth sports programs.

"Tommy's always been extremely involved in children's sports," McCormick said. "So many people know him because he was so involved with kids. He was just relentlessly positive. He stopped working after the Parkinson's became entrenched, but he stayed involved with youth sports and coached whenever he was physically able. He never was a victim to this thing, never said, 'Why me?' He was always trying to rise above it."

"He was an idol to me, always happy," recalled former rugby teammate Rob Staniec. "Nothing bothered him. I talked to him the Wednesday before he passed way, and he still had a great outlook that sense of humor was always there. I would sometimes take him to church, and some days he couldn't hardly stand up. Other days he was better. It never got him down. He was always smiling, lifting people's spirits."

Tom Dimmitt, the recently retired SLO High athletic director, also recalled Tommy's positive attitude: "He went by the motto that life was 10 percent what happened to you and 90 percent how you responded to it. He was the kind of guy always thinking of someone else's situation, not concerned about his own difficulties."

When he was going through Tommy's possessions, McCormick noticed two things that stood out. His refrigerator was covered with photos of some of the young athletes he coached, and there was a message on his answering machine left after he had died. McCormick pushed play: "Hey Tommy, it's me," said an unidentified female. "I just called to hear your voice one last time."

"It just about broke my heart," McCormick said.

Charles Thomas "Tommy" Bobrink was born Oct. 24, 1952, in Albuquerque, N.M., and he died on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2006, in San Luis Obispo. He was just a regular guy who happened to spend his life giving of himself, not taking.

In my book, that makes him a rare person indeed. ?

Glen Starkey first met Tommy Bobrink in 1988. Reminisce at gstarkey@newtimesslo.com.

 

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