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Remembering Rob Phipps
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It's been 52 days since Ceres Vice Mayor Rob Phipps died. Many people in Ceres are still in shock.

I've thought about him a lot since then. It's hard to not think about someone who was very much in your life, visible at every turn, present at meeting after meeting, then gone like a vapor.

Just before the election Rob came into the office to see me and gave me a hard time about not endorsing him, even after I explained that the paper wasn't endorsing any longer. I think he tried to rub it in one more time when I saw him at the ground breaking of the Ceres Community Center on Oct. 25.

I was certainly stunned when I received a call at home from Sgt. Berber reporting his death. Truly, I was stunned.

The night before his death was the Dec. 1 Ceres Christmas Festival, which I covered. I had a chance to chat with the mayor and Supervisor DeMartini who were off to a quiet side talking politics. On the way back over to the crowd, I saw Gail Lambert, Rob's girlfriend. She was carrying two cups of hot chocolate. I assumed that one was for Rob. I remembered walking steps behind Gail, wanting to tap her on the shoulder to ask if Rob was around. But I didn't because I didn't want to possibly startle her and have her spill them.

I found out later that Rob was in the crowd, all right. But I never saw him. I am not sure what I would have done or said if I knew he had just 15 hours left to live.

The next morning he went down. Something inside that large body of his had gone wrong. He clutched his chest. He couldn't breathe. His last words were to a paramedic: "I can't breathe."

The last time I saw Rob he was doing the city's business at the Nov. 26 Ceres City Council meeting. One of his last votes happened to be a split vote: to increase the pay schedule of city employees to bring them more in line with neighboring cities as a way to keep good people to stay put. At just after 10 p.m. the meeting broke off.

Others have been thinking about Rob, too. John Anderson said last week that he's still "in shock." He told me of an e-mail that Rob sent him the day before his death and that he hadn't opened it. When I asked why he said it apparently was one of those forwards that he liked to send.

John also remembered that he spoke to Rob about another order of logo-imprinted golf balls for his company, J.B. Anderson Land Use Planning. Rob, of course, managed the River Oaks Golf Course. Upon his passing the care of the golf course went to his brother Mike.

The other day Mike called John to say that the order of balls was in.

Rob took care of the order before he passed. Somehow he just hasn't been able to go pick them up yet.

Golfer Tom Adams saw Rob the day before his death. His death inspired Adams to finish a poem that reflected what golf means to him. The poem was directed at the golf course but one line jumps out: "You taught me courage and how to face life's toughest challenge, death, and the loss of a loved one."

Rob Phipps' greatest contribution may not be his term on the council but allowing thousands of kids to learn the relatively expensive sport of golf. The sport, in turn, gave many kids something to aspire to.

Rob was only 44. I always have trouble accepting the fact that people younger than me can die. Death - that great offense that confronts mankind - often deals its hand unfairly. But there is nothing any of us can do. All who are born eventually die. Death even arrested William Saroyan in all his cockiness when he uttered at the end of his life: "I always knew that we all die but in my case I thought there would be an exception."

Death has a more pungent sting when it's during the holiday season. Its cruelty magnified when others are making plans to get together with loved ones, one is ripped from its nest. For his parents, Jim and Carol Phipps, death was especially rude and calloused as it meant burying their third son. One of Rob's brothers died of cancer and another died in an Alaskan plane crash.

One thing is for sure, when a friend or acquaintance comes to the end of their life, I always invariably think, wow, I thought we'd have more time.

When I was younger I scoffed at the notion that life is very short. Now halfway through mine, I know it to be very true. The quest is to make those days as rich and fulfilling as possible.

Rob did, that's for sure.

How do you feel? Let him know at