Requiem for a heavyweight

John J. Hopkins Jul. 31, 2005, 10:24am

As the regular SIDEBAR reader knows, this column likes to make a point using a movie as the central image.

This week’s movie is the 1962 classic “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” not because the underlying theme, but because of the title. Unlike the movie, where the main character is a pawn in a game where he controls nothing yet moves on in a form of symbolic death, today’s column deals with the reality of death, and a true heavyweight.

Bob Becker died last Wednesday, the 20th of July. Like so many hundreds of men and women from all over the Metro area, I was proud to say that Bob was my friend. His death leaves a huge void in the legal and political arenas in the Metro East, a void commensurate with the shadow of a life well lived.

The obituaries tell the story of Bob Becker - the first rate municipal lawyer, renowned throughout the state for expertise in governmental legal matters, the Godfather of Fairview Heights and counselor to scores of boards, districts and villages - but it tells only part of the story.

Cool as a vodka martini, as elegant as a newly pressed tuxedo, Bob Becker is what you wanted to be when you grew up. Perpetually tanned, he moved with grace in and out of the courtroom, always with a smile to greet and a hand to help.

At a time when the practice of Law has become so very mercenary, so very cut-throat, Bob was a throwback to another era, another time when a man’s word was his bond, and nothing was worse than to break a promise once given.

For me professionally, he was a strong supporter in a troubled time of conflict.

When a disloyal and ungrateful employee left our firm in the middle of the night, stealing in the process confidential information and client lists to be used to set up his own practice, Bob was much more than a sympathetic ear. Having experienced much the same thing at the hands of a former partner, Bob knew the sting of such deceit, and reacted by becoming an advisor and eventually advocate in the action against for restitution.

His wise counsel was invaluable.

On a more personal note, in May of 1989, our families were thrown together by the shared experience of medical emergencies. At that time, my mother was a patient at Barnes Hospital, recovering from successful cancer surgery.

As fate would have it, Bobby Becker was on the same floor, recovering from a very serious motor vehicle accident. As a consequence, we saw each other frequently. Moreover, my Dad and Bob, standing the lonely vigil for the loved one, became fast friends, if only for a while.

So the baseball player who’s son’s a lawyer, teamed up with the lawyer who’s son’s a baseball player. For years afterward, Bob would ask about my mother, and Dad about Bobby, a bond forged in shared experience of grief and then relief.

The measure of a man is found not only in the litany of his accomplishments, but in the things valued, the items of importance. I was struck by in addition to his wife, children, grandchildren and in-laws, the obits said Bob will be sorely missed by his beloved pets - Elsa, Cooper, Buddy, Lois, Calvin and Martha.

A wreath loaded with dog treats, water bowls and tennis balls, also decorated the casket at the funeral home. Such speaks volumes about the gentleness of a soul, to be badly missed by special pets. Must love dogs.

It is a worn cliche to say, “We shall not see his like again soon,” but in Bob Becker’s case, it is so very true. But the sadness of his passing should be tempered by reflections that while his time on earth was short, it was full to the brim.

All over the Metro East, his friends are lifting a glass of fine wine or good Scotch, to toast his memory, and to share “Becker stories.” A finer legacy no man can desire.

To Mary Lynn, their children and grandchildren, my deepest sympathies. To his law partners, Kevin, Al and Rod, keep your head up. It is dark now, but you all will survive. The sun will come out again.

In the Catholic burial rite, prayers are offered so that “Perpetual Light” will shine upon the deceased. Such was offered at the mass and grave side services.

Treating the prayer as motions filed with a heavenly court, I am sure that Bob Becker was successful again, and that the light of providence does indeed shine upon him. Rest in peace, my friend.

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