By Michael Burnham and Barbara Wolf
When Bob Moore died from esophageal cancer at 81 on the afternoon of Thursday the 18th of March, Cincinnati and the world lost one of its most persistent, inclusive, and kindest social activists, not to mention what U. Utah Phillips, one of Bob’s favorite folk musicians, would have labeled its “best political tool”, aka “a long memory”.
Educator and Over-the-Rhine activist Bonnie Neumeier recalls, “From the moment I first met him, he was a history book, always sharing stories about a wide range of struggles for justice.” Bob’s younger brother Richard calls him “the jokester and the trickster” of the family, especially early on. The US Department of Education’s Gregg Corr calls Bob “a fighter. He fought against oppression, injustice, and inequality. He supported people’s struggles on a variety of fronts. He didn’t take the easy path, but always strived to do the right thing.” Mary McCoy, who worked with Moore to establish PeaceWorks, a coalition of activists concerned with various social justice issues, says, “When I think of him, it is not foremost as a comrade and crusader. I think of him as my friend. I suspect that is true for others, as he had a way about him that made us love him no matter what else was going on. I suspect his warm heart, gentle push, and easy smile changed many lives besides mine.”
But it wasn’t just that—Lucy Crane remembers that “Bob was also a very kind and gentle man...and he had the sweetest crinkle in his eyes every time he smiled at you.” Bob Moore’s life proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s possible to be all those things – scholar, joker, fighter, and kind friend – at one and the same time, not to mention be all of them at once to a hell of a lot of people. Perhaps inspired by his father – the Robert R. Moore who captained the ship delivering Admiral Byrd to Antarctica – Bob hoped to fly C130 rescue planes in Vietnam, didn’t get into flight school, and served as Executive Officer on a Coast Guard cutter instead. Then, while putting his BA from William and Mary to use in the University of Cincinnati’s School of Education (M.Ed and ABD/Ed.D), he proudly joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War. As he became aware dollars spent on the war were making life miserable for the poor at home and that veterans often became homeless, Bob’s activism expanded to embrace those issues.
To earn an ethical living, Moore taught at UC and then at Union Institute, later working for the Urban Appalachian Council, St. Raphael Social Service, and Interfaith Hospitality Network. He served on the boards of the Appalachian Community Development Association, the Association for Community Based Education, the Urban Appalachian Council, the Butler County Human Services Council, and the Society for the Preservation of Aurora. He cofounded the Butler County Self-Sufficiency Coalition, founded the Butler County Homeless Coalition, co-chaired the Cincinnati Central American Task Force, chaired UAC’s Research and Education Committee, and cofounded the political theatre StreetTalk. As for honors, after his death his wife found boxes labeled “Bob’s Awards” in the garage.
Georgine Getty – the executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless from 2002-2007, then director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network for six years, and now the director of Our Daily Bread – remembers being befriended by Bob during a time of some stress. As she recalls it, “I first met Bob because I got stood up. I was 26 years old and the new director of the Coalition for the Homeless. It was a cold and rotten day, and I was supposed to meet a prospective board member, but she never showed up. This was at Mullane’s during lunchtime so, of course, Bob was there. He was alone, but not really because Bob was never alone. He sat there, eating his meal and surveying the room with his trademark blend of curiosity and good humor. He noticed me getting stood up – the looks from my watch to the door – and he asked me to come eat with him. Normally, I am not one to sit with strangers but I said yes because this man with the ponytail had the kindest eyes I’d ever seen. It was like I’d stepped into a story that had been going on before me and would keep going on after me.”
So it’s easy to see why a lot of people in this region of the country have started feeling like Executive Director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, Josh Spring does. As Spring puts it, “Bob was on the board of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition for many years. He was the executive director of Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati, a longtime Member-Organization of the Coalition and really, Bob had been with our Coalition since before its founding. It is hard to imagine Bob not being around. From when I was interviewed to work at the Coalition, there has been some level of security in knowing, even if Bob wasn’t in the meeting or discussion at hand, he was always just around the corner.”
As Bonnie Neumeier says, “It was just recently that he had to vacate his participation on the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Board for health reasons. When I think of Bob Moore, I see his smile that is gentle and kind. But within that gentleness, there was a fire in his soul to right wrongs so all peoples could live in dignity and peace.”
To that, Mary McCoy adds, “He was a rare individual who spent much of his life serving others, especially those who faced oppression, yet he had not an ounce of self-righteousness in him. He did not see himself as better than those I thought were downright wrong.”
Spring suggests we not cut the cords of solidarity that link us to the dead: “It felt like a gift to work with Bob, to be joined with someone who had been in the fight longer than I had been alive and who for decades had seen systemic ills and decided to fight and fight. Whatever the meeting, the discussion, the debate, the controversy, etc., I always knew Bob was on a part of the fabric of our side.
“As the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, we love Bob Moore, are very grateful for Bob, and forever will be tied to Bob. We stand with his wife Patty, his Family, and all of his People.”
Edited from the Michael Burnham and Barbara Wolf pamphlet by Barry Klein, Steve Sunderland, and Chris Wilkey.