By Michael Autobee
Robert “Bob” Autobee, journalist and historian, age 56, of Lakewood died in Corpus Christi, Texas, March 18, following a short illness.
At the time of his death, he was deployed with FEMA to support Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts as an historic preservationist. That he found the most obscure job in the federal government is not a surprise because my brother Bob was as unconventional as he was smart. His first love affair was with journalism and it started 1964. At age three, he read the newspaper out loud for family and friends, leaving them absolutely amazed. He pursued every topic that interested him. He could not casually read a book and move on rather he totally immersed himself. Bob was our answer-man. Now we have to use Google like everyone else.
Bob always had a unique way of looking at things. He shunned the established and popular. While most kids were playing football, basketball and baseball, my brother would be arranging the backyard as a rugby field, or a cricket oval, or an Australian-rules football field. Usually our little sister Kristina and I were the opposing team. Don’t get me wrong, very little in American sports escaped his notice.
The family had little doubt that he would someday be a writer. His young imagination was active – he wrote and illustrated stories and he created his own comic books. He wanted to be a sports broadcaster. For a high school graduation gift, Bob received a complete stereo system from his parents. He started slowly with rock and pop music, but eventually plunged himself into jazz, R&B and Latin music.
While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Communications at Metro State, Bob worked on the Rocky Mountain News copy desk. One of the perks was writing articles for the paper. He started writing record reviews for the Friday arts section of the News. He parlayed the record reviews into a job with Westword as a Jazz critic. For that job, Bob interviewed the Latin Jazz great Tito Puente. The interview was before a concert and Tito was upset because his luggage was missing and he always performed with tie on. Bob offered his necktie to Puente to wear onstage. Tito took him up on his offer and played the entire evening wearing Bob’s necktie. How many idols do you get to give your clothes to?
To continue his education, he attended University of Northern Colorado to earn a master’s degree in History – thus the evolution of a historical preservationist. The Colorado Historical Society printed his thesis, “If You Stick with Barnum: A History of a Denver Neighborhood,” in their monograph series
Bob’s writing skills took him around the country. He worked for small newspapers, wrote federal government histories for dam and irrigation projects, performed archival research for Indian communities attempting to obtain official tribal status, and lobbied Congress for water conservation programs.
Once back in Denver, he established roots. He bought a house and packed it with all the books and records he could. He became quite domesticated and pursued gardening.
In 2002 Bob met his future wife Kris at a meeting of the Colorado Corral of the Westerners, an international association of western historians. Mother and I had lunch with him after that meeting and we both encouraged him to ask her for a date. With their intellect and their love of the unconventional, it was only a matter of time that they would be married. When it was time expand their family – they bought chickens.
Writing for their jobs did not allow Bob or Kris to expand creatively. So they found ways to write what interested them. Many of you know the results - two books on the history of Lakewood and one on the lost restaurants of Denver, articles for scholarly journals, local newspapers, and city and county historical societies.
He was not overly fond of technology, but learned to use tools like Dropbox so he and Kris could collaborate no matter where they were.
He lamented Denver’s growth and waxed nostalgic for the great city of his childhood. I think his concern about the ever-expanding Denver led to his recent focus on Lakewood and specifically Colfax Avenue. He felt that he would affect change on a smaller scale. His interactions with the West Colfax Community, 40 West Arts District, City of Lakewood, and the neighborhoods’ residents were satisfying relationships.
Bob had a terrific sense of humor, irony and sarcasm. His laughter was always honest and genuine. If I could get him to laugh then I knew he was unguarded and relaxed. All our lives, when we got together and our mother would come into the room, she would ask, “Why are you two giggling like a couple of little girls?”
Wherever he was, he called his mother daily and reached out to me and our sisters once or twice a week. I’m sure he called Kris more often than just at tea time. He encouraged his nieces to make the most of their education, work hard, and follow their dreams.
What do I take away from my big brothers life? Work hard, respect people, honor the past, and pursue dreams with laughter and love. In the daily grind of life it’s easy to take granted what we have, but as an observer I think he had a very rich life.
Bob was preceded in death by his father. He is survived by his wife Kristen, mother Margaret, siblings Victoria (Doug Mass) Autobee, Michael (Robin) Autobee, and Kristina (Jed San Pietro) Autobee, nieces Amanda (Chris Sterling) Autobee, Samantha Autobee, friends from all walks of life, and two pet hens. Services were held at Our Lady of Fatima, Lakewood, on March 28. A Celebration of Life at Pure Colorado Events Center followed the services.