Yesterday the news came from Nicole Reichenbach that her father and my great and true friend Bob Reichenbach died on December 10th from complications from the stomach cancer he’d been fighting with incredible grace and courage for the last year. I knew this was coming — but it has come too soon, and too unfairly. A great human being with an absolutely unique quality of warmth, playfulness, and an irrepressible generosity of spirit is gone. He leaves behind the his extraordinarily strong and gentle wife Ginny, and two exceptional grown daughters, Nicole and Noel.
Subic Bay Freeport 1993
Bob and I first met in Subic, Philippines in the fall of 1993 where he had been brought in from the US to oversee the establishment of Royal Duty Free Mall, one of a handful of duty free operations that were then springing up in the newly formed Freeport after the departure of the U.S. Navy a year earlier. I had line produced a movie called Fortunes of War in Subic in the spring of that year which had involved some disastrous decisions that had left me broke and spiritually depleted, and so I was hunkered down in a bungalow provided by Dick Gordon and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, doing work as a consultant to the SBMA and trying to scratch out a living in whatever ways I could while I recovered from the movie debacle. Bob, it turned out, needed somebody with a little bit of hustle and energy to help promote the grand opening of Royal Subic, and somehow we hooked up and with the able assistance of Lou Degg we worked together making posters, flyers, hanging banners, and otherwise raising as much ruckus as we could to get Royal Subic off to a good start. I used the money from that contract and another small contract with the SBMA to start a restaurant in the clubhouse of the golf course called The Hollywood Steakhouse, with Bob as my greatest supporter and–being a world class retail and marketing expert which I most certainly was not–advisor on how to get the business off the ground successfully, which with his help and counsel, happened.
It was the beginning of a lifetime friendship. Bob was in his early forties and I in my late thirties — we had boundless energy and a sense of fun and appreciation for the moment — and we just hit it off. For a half dozen years in Subic we found more ways to have fun than I can even remember. There was golf — round after round at the old Subic golf course, Bob with his towering fade and latest hi-tech driver which, I insisted then, was the only possible explanation for the fact the he could consistently outdrive me. There were jet ski rambles, and then at some point Bob got a sleek and sexy motorboat which we used to scoot around on Subic Bay. Not to be outdone I put together a group who bought a deep-sea fishing boat that led to some additional adventures on the open seas.
In 1995 Bob opened a Royal store at Clark Freeport (the former Clark Air Base) and asked me to open up a Hollywood Steakhouse inside the premises there — which I did, and which led to more hilarity, more golf, more San Miguels, this time with Clark s the venue. Then he said he had decided to open an “office superstore” at Clark which I, somehow, over a half dozen beers, christened with the name “A-0k”. Bob didn’t need a partner but what the hell, we thought we might as well be in it together so I came in and we managed to lose some money together but have plenty of laughs as we tried to figure out a business that neither of had any particular knowledge about. At some point I left the business but Bob persisted and eventually made it work, which led to another discount office superstore, Rockbottom, at Subic. Through it all Bob was electric with his energy, intellect, and what seemed to be just an endless supply of good humor and playfulness. Whether it was planning the next business venture, playing golf, shooting pool (he also kicked my butt at that game, and never let me forget it), or just hanging out and laughing at life — Bob had the most life, the most fun, and the most optimism of anyone I knew, and I treasured our time together.
A Friend of the Philippines
One of the things that set Bob apart was his love of the Philippines. Bob wasn’t the typical expat who lives the high life and enjoys the fruits of the country while criticizing and constantly comparing to home, where things are supposed to be better. Bob loved and respected the Filipinos he worked with and played with — he had married into the culture ad saw the strength and beauty and creativity and wisdom of the Philippines. I never once heard him make the kind of caustic comments that were typical among expats–he enthusiastically embraced the country, respected and loved the culture, and was deeply proud of his blended family and the fact that his daughters would grow up with the perspective and blood of both cultures.
Bob embraced my own adventures as his own. When I set out to make a movie about Subic called Goodbye America, Bob helped put together a group of investors and endorsed me to them with a fervor and conviction that I don’t think anyone else could match. He had a way of talking about me to other people that was so enthusiastic as to be infectious — and to talk about anyone with such enthusiasm is just an indicator of how generous of spirit Bob was, and how outwardly directed his energy was. He didn’t hold anything back — he shared, and he enjoyed.
Our Paths Separate
Eventually Bob and his family relocated back home to New York, while Rena and I moved to Los Angeles. Those Subic years were over for me, but not for Bob — he maintained a house there and continued traveling there every year on business trips, maintaining his ties to the community there. Every time he came back from a trip to Subic he would send me pictures and update me on things there, always showing that same warmth and commitment to it that had been on display when we were both their during Subic’s (and our) heyday.
Every time I checked in with Bob over the last ten years of so, it seemed he had risen another notch or two in the retail world. The last time we got together was a little over a year ago while he was on a visit to Los Angeles. He took a room at the Holiday Inn across from our apartment in Burbank, and he and I met for golf in the early afternoon at Wilson-Harding Golf Course in Griffith Park. We played 18 glorious holes and ended up deadlocked — each shooting an 83 which wasn’t bad for what was now a couple of old guys. We decided that we couldn’t let the epic match end like that, so we set out on an “emergency eighteen” — a second round that took us into almost total darkness, using the light from our iPhones to see the ball on the last hole — and the match ending with an outrageous flop shot that went high over trap, landed on the downslope and trickled into the hole, leaving both of flat on our backs in the grass, laughing uproariously and ridiculousness of it all — sixty-something kids lost in a moment we would never forget.
Facing the End With Courage and Humor
Bob called me a few months ago with the news that he’d been given a diagnosis of stage four stomach cancer. I was devastated but he was upbeat. He wasn’t entertaining the possibility of a miracle — he knew the hand he’d been dealt was going to end things for him , but he was philosophical. “We had a helluva run,” he said, and meant it — because his life really had been an exhilarating ride, not a plodding journey. He talked about his beloved Ginny and how she was a rock and would be okay, and how Noel and Nicole had turned into the best kind of daughters he could have ever imagined, and how he knew they would be fine, and how he had been blessed in so many ways to have had the life he’d managed to have. Typically, his reason for giving me the news when he did, rather than waiting, was because he knew I was facing some difficulties and he knew — rightly — that his news would provide some much needed perspective to me, that my troubles were nothing more than a mere nuisance and that I had so much to be thankful for. That was Bob — facing a death sentence that he didn’t deserve at a time when he had every right to expect another twenty-five years out of life, he thought of me and my travails and tried to lighten my load — which, in fact, he did, not just by sharing his news, but by being him, and sharing his perspective on life, and death, and what it all meant. We talked for an hour that day as he sat in the hospital, getting a blood transfusion — a conversation filled with laughter and jokes, interspersed with moments of poignancy and remembrance. There were no tears, not on the call, athough when I hung up I needed a private moment to adjust to the new reality that Bob wasn’t going to be with us much longer. Two months later – he’s gone.
If we’re lucky, each of us, in our lives, will have a few great friendships that we take with us to our own final moments, and treasure as the stuff that, along with the sacred joy of family, makes life worth living. My friendship with Bob Reichenbach was one such relationship, and I know that my life has been richer, and my character is better and more evolved, for having known him. May he forever rest in the kind of gentle, irrepressible, generous peace that he shared with us in his lifetime.