Even though he lost his 34-year battle with cancer on March 13, 2023, Robert “Bob” Randolph McCombs loved his life. Born on Sept. 21, 1940, in South Bend, Washington, to Matilda Theresa Sturza and Ira “Bud” Franklin” McCombs, Bob grew up in many small towns around the Pacific Northwest.
He would talk about seeing the ripples in the ground during the 1949 Olympia Earthquake. Eventually, his family, including his two brothers, “Bud” and Doug, stayed in Charleston, Oregon, where his dad ran the McCombs Lumber Company. There, Bob played on the football team, a career that began with his mom outrunning him to the goal-line in middle school and ended as a defensive back on the Marshfield High School state champion football team in Coos Bay, Oregon. It was there he earned the nickname, "Fibre," because he would bend but not break.
Armed with social skills and a top tier sense of humor, Bob was carted off to Millard School in Langlois, Oregon, to prove just how unbreakable he was. Bob learned scholastic tricks, developed his memorization, an astounding vocabulary, and how to wiggle his ears under Colonel Homer Millard. Then, it was off to Oregon State College and the University of Oregon for bachelor’s degree in general science. More importantly, he earned the heart of the equally intelligent and strong Dorothy “Dodi” Starr. Bob proved his intelligence by asking her to marry him months after talking her into a date. With his parents’ consent, the legend of Bob and Dodi began — a 61-year marriage adventure between two people fully devoted and in love. Some even say they each lived longer because of the care they provided the other.
Bob worked the greenline at his dad’s mill, delivered chemicals (some radioactive) in college, and did numerous jobs in chemical engineering. His ability to apply academic knowledge in the real world coupled with his approachable demeanor landed him a job with Dow Industrial. He teamed up with scientists and engineers to build “green energy” (nuclear) power plants along the Great Lakes in the late 1960s.
Bob, Dodi, and I, his first born, Shannon W. McCombs, all moved to Westport, Oregon on a logging road in 1969. Eventually, Bob (my dad) discovered a niche and, along with a team, launched a new company, Western Industrial, which offered chemical cleaning for industries, including pulp mills. While he worked multi-day shifts, I thought his actual job was “Santa,” which wasn’t too far from the truth as he always found time to play. The playing never stopped, even as the company grew, after it was sold and after he retired.
His hobbies included motorcycles, scuba diving (made his own suit!), bow and arrows, boats, tennis, model airplanes, golf, flower gardening, and tv-channel surfing.
When his son, Robert “Chris” McCombs was born, dad was ready to move on up to Ridgefield, Washington in 1975. With all of that extra fun and space, it’s no surprise that my sister, Wendy T. Anderson, joined us in 1977.
Bob and Dodi raised kids, dogs and cats, as well as opening their home and hearts to all of our friends. And, yet, the adventures continued. He piled us into the car on May 18, 1980, to witness Mount St. Helens’ eruption, watching ash plumes, remnants of mudflows and endless traffic. Beyond teaching curiosity, dad taught us all the importance of a great sense of humor and that home is a place you can always come to, no matter what. He pushed us to not take our time, our privilege, for granted. And, as his children, we pushed right back.
In 1997, dad’s heart grew as grandchildren nuzzled their way in. Rhys Colson enjoyed a 6-year lead, then was followed by Shelby McCombs, Tirion Colson, Elliott Anderson, Lauren McCombs and Matilda “Tilly” Anderson. Each grandchild belly laughed as dad (grandpa) told tales of wrestling sharks, turning them inside-out by the tail. These six grandkids now tell equally tall tales and still smile, securing dad’s legacy for the generation yet to be. When I asked my dad for his thoughts on dying he said, “I’ve lived a full life. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had your mom and you three kids. I’m good with that. I just want your mom to be OK.” My parents’ love is so strong that it is transcendental. Dad comforts mom each day in this sentiment. I hope it comforts all of you too. We love and miss you and your crooked smile, Bob, dad and grandpa.
Celebrate his life with us at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 29, 2023, at the Liberty Bible Church in Vancouver, Washington. We will be sharing our own stories and inviting others to share theirs. In lieu of flowers, please send a story about Bob or a donation to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.