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caption: Bob Schaefer, pictured with his wife, Doris.
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Bob Schaefer, pictured with his wife, Doris.
Credit: Courtesy of Heidi Beck

Robert Schaefer, 87, retired radiologist, loved opera and poetry

Our series, Lives Lost, remembers loved ones who have died in the pandemic. You can share an obituary of someone special to you by filling out the form at the bottom of this story.

Bob Schaefer once confided to a friend that the only time he bothered with poetry was in college, for a required class. Decades later, he would come to appreciate the depth of feelings that can be conveyed in sparse words, said Peggy Wolff, a close friend.

Schaefer and his wife Doris met Wolff while volunteering at the Seattle Opera. They would drive singers to rehearsals and to the airport.

Schaefer was reintroduced to poetry when Seattle singer Archie Drake died, and Wolff helped organize a memorial, a small gathering at Golden Gardens Park. Schaefer was among friends and family members who spread rose petals after Drake’s ashes were scattered in the water. Each person read a poem.

“Bob was choking over the poem that he read,” Wolff said. The next day, Wolff hosted a party and asked guests to bring a funny poem.

"Bob loved it," said Wolff. This cemented their friendship. "His wife told me I created a monster," said Wolff, "because he had to read poetry every night before he went to sleep."

Schaefer was a regular guest at Wolff’s poetry parties, and complained it wasn’t often enough. Wolff admired the time he spent researching a poem, and often consulted her about whether it would be appropriate to read at the party. He tended to be serious, Wolff said, and preferred sad poetry.

Two months before he died, Schaefer left a message on Wolff’s voicemail. He found a poem by Robinson Jeffers called The House Dog’s Grave. “He was sobbing as he read it to me,” said Wolff.

(Click on the audio to hear the poem and Wolff's remembrance.)

Last March, a few days before Schaefer’s 88th birthday, they talked. He was hospitalized for Covid. Over and over, he told Wolff he’d really love to have another poetry party.

“I told him we would have one in his honor when he recovered,” said Wolff. He sounded pleased.

Wolff plans to carry out that promise, to have a poetry party in his honor, when the pandemic is over.

Producer Alec Cowan composed music for this story.

If you've lost someone in Washington through Covid, we invite you to tell us about them--their story, their passions, and your memories of them.