Rob Wunderlich )
If there is a takeaway for all of us from the much-too-short life of Rob Wunderlich, it is that he lived every day with the full knowledge that life is much too short.
And when you do that, in the humble, understated way that Rob did, it’s amazing how many people you touch.
Like the staff at Ferndale’s Fly Trap Restaurant, who recently named a salad after one of their favorite patrons: “Rob’s Chop Chop,” described as: “a ‘wunder’ not to be missed.”
Or the tellers at the Ferndale branch of Huntington Bank, who kept a stash of butterscotch lollipop Dum Dums — Rob’s favorite — for the most congenial of customers.
Or the staff at Ronald McDonald House, who were distraught at losing the tech guy who created their website and who often worked miracles at a moment’s notice, all on his own dime. Or the music program at the Ferndale School District, which lost its most ardent and faithful booster.
As Rob’s brother Keith said: “If there is any solace at all, it’s knowing that Rob loved life and lived it to its fullest. … He fit more into his 62 years than most of us could in two lifetimes.”
Rob passed away Aug. 30 while swimming at the family’s lake cabin. All that is known is that he was in distress. Because there are no answers beyond that, “We have to be OK with the fact that we will never know, ” as his daughter Charlotte says.
One of the beautiful ironies of his passing is that Rob never took anything for granted. And neither did his wife of 32 years, Eileen, or daughters Samantha, 25, and Charlotte, 22.
“That is the way he lived,” said Samm. “There weren’t things left unsaid. One of my friends said to me: ‘One of the benefits you guys had was that you were such a close family. There’s no regrets, or guilt or remorse. You’re just really, really sad.’ ”
Said Charlotte: “He definitely knew how much we loved him, and we definitely know how much he loved us.”
A native of Lathrup Village and graduate of Wayne State University, professionally Rob was a vice president of client services for iEnterprises of New Jersey. A longtime manager of marketing and communications for Chrysler Group, Eileen is well known in communications circles in Detroit.
Rob was always passionate about music. He played the piano, organ and oboe. In the ’70s, Rob was the West Coast product manager for Columbia Records. Eileen was working for Columbia Records in publicity at the time. So, their courtship was all about attending the hottest rock concerts all around the country.
David Gales, who worked with Rob back in those heady days in L.A., said: “Rob guided me toward many a right outcome with that quiet confidence and imperturbability that was so Rob.”
Naturally, Rob and Eileen raised their daughters to appreciate music. They made sure the girls saw the Broadway musicals and the great musicians: Paul McCartney; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Billy Joel; Bruce Springsteen; Simon and Garfunkel. In kind, Charlotte and Samantha turned their dad on to their musical tastes: the Avett Brothers, the Decemberists, Lord Huron and Haim. They always bought tickets in fours: It was never not cool to attend a concert with your parents.
Rob loved all kinds of restaurants, from sushi to Vietnamese. He got his pilot’s license in California, he loved to water ski with his brother and would take in events on the spur of the moment, like being an extra recently at the filming of “Detroit 187.” Said Samm: “He was like: ‘Don’t overthink it. Just go do it.’ ”
Rob was the friend who wrangled couples together for nights out: He coordinated dates, made the reservations. He loved chocolate and Diet Coke and bacon. Despite his daughters’ strict vegetarian diet, he was fond of saying: “Nothing is wrong with this that a little bacon wouldn’t cure.”
And as much as Eileen admonished him to try a little tough love when it came to adolescent girls, he failed every time. “My father didn’t know how to do ‘tough love,’ ” said Charlotte. “He only knew how to love unconditionally.”
At the memorial, the Ferndale High School wind ensemble played a favorite score of Rob’s: “An American Elegy” by Frank Ticheli. Ticheli said he wrote the piece “to serve as a reminder of how precious life is and how intimately connected we all are as human beings.” Rob knew that from Day One.