You really should’ve known Bob Schulman, because there will never be another one like him. Some of that has to do with how the world has changed. The man started his professional journalism career in 1937. He finally hung it up just a few years ago, so to speak — if you call finishing a book at age 90 easing into retirement.
Sometimes you read a person’s obituary and think the family has gone a little overboard. Not this time.
Schulman’s obit in The Courier-Journal was lengthy, and yet it still seemed streamlined. The paper could’ve printed a special section to recap this remarkable life, except Schulman hung around so long that the paper where he left a mark is no longer the kind of paper that much remembers its past heroes.
The resume was impressive, but it largely predated my own experience with Bob. Twenty years ago, when I was a journalism student at Indiana University Southeast, students from IUS, U of L, JCC and Bellarmine cobbled together a student chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Bob was working at U of L at the time. Mind you, he was already 70ish, a time when a lot of men have moved to Florida and gotten reacquainted with golf.
Bob was quite supportive of our efforts, as was his wont, and eventually I overcame my awe sufficiently to consider him a friend and mentor. For the past several years, we’ve both sat on the board of directors for The Louisville Cardinal, U of L’s student newspaper, and it was a rare meeting where I didn’t hang around afterward to pick his brain and listen to him raise hell.
Where do you start? He was an interesting looking character, short, svelte, always well-dressed in a style you would call “dapper.” He favored bow ties. He spoke the King’s English. Erudite is a word best used advisedly, but it applies. He was curious about the world, our country, state and city. He read. He traveled. He could be a crank. Rachael Kamuf, a former LEO managing editor and a longtime friend of Bob’s, saw him Friday and said his mind was sharp. It’s his body that gave out.
We all knew this day might come, even though Bob seemed immortal and larger than life. Now that it has, it hurts. It’s too soon.
Last year during its annual awards banquet, the Metro Louisville SPJ chapter presented Bob a lifetime achievement award, its first. He didn’t know about it beforehand, and as he walked to the front of the overheated room, I figured we were in for a lengthy speech. But it didn’t happen; Bob was nearly speechless, a rare thing indeed. It got to him, and that’s a priceless moment.
I went back and read e-mails from Bob, many of the listserv variety for Cardinal board members. He had a unique way of expressing himself, an obtuse syntax that always required me to stop and ponder even while making me smile. It’s worth sharing a handful.
In response to former board chair Michael Lindenberger’s e-mail letting board members know of Bob’s serious health problems that arose last spring: “Dear Cardinalites: As usual Michael has done a good reporting job in calling your attention to my recent efforts to add to the financial stability of my cardiologist, internist, kidney peruser and a host of other mostly devoted Jewish Hospital caretakers. My ability to be in on the new EIC choice (Ed Godfrey chauffered me) made for an encouraging return to non-invalided life. And a Get Well balloon and posies from all of you lifted the spirits. My aim will be not to miss any Cardinal board sessions. Hearty best—bob.”
In response to Lindenberger’s e-mail detailing the success of the student paper’s year-end banquet (where the year’s distinguished staffer was presented an award named for Schulman), he wrote: “The obvious high bounce and conviviality at the Cardinal party caper makes me all the more embarrassed for having been an absentee. I mean, how much more awkward can it be for an old sachem to miss out on a fine choice for an award with his name, let alone need to trail in at the end with cheers for the Lindenberger and other good messages? But I hope all hands will let me catch up as the new Cardinal stanza begins!—Bob.”
In reply to former Cardinal adviser Kim Speirs, who’d sent around photos of her new baby: “Those baby photos are goosefleshy fulfilling. The cheering section in this corner will look forward to weekly, monthly and annual updates, with lots of loving critiques.”
And in an e-mail to me, with the subject line “The Shame at LEO,” he chastised me for not reviewing his new book, “Romany Marie: Queen of Greenwich Village,” which, unfortunately, got lost in the shuffle:
“Cary: Why don’t you assign a gifted staffer to interview me and thus remove the LEO shame of Louisville’s only truly bohemian publication not taking note of a book about a great bohemian — produced yet by a 90-year-old Louisville author and a Louisville publisher?!
“You have my assurance that all this is supported by the record. After all, when my mother’s sister Romany Marie Marchand died, the Greenwich Village Voice gave her front-page play and pronounced her ‘the last of the true bohemians.’
“As you know, the dictionary defines ‘bohemian’ as ‘unconventional and creative.’ As a youth growing up in New York I came under the influence of that bohemian aunt and the true bohemians who flocked around her (along with those she pronounced the ‘pseudos.’)
“Ask me what’s bohemian in Louisville beyond LEO and I would say the Rud. That’s because its longtime operators, Ken and Sheila Pyle, conducted the Rud as Marie did her Village centers — with little regard for profit but with central regard for giving unconventional and creative people a place at little cost to talk, think, perform and ponder how they differ from stuffy people.
“And let not it be assumed that what went on among such folk in Greenwich Village is remote from LEO’s orbit. For generations, restless and searching youth left Louisville and other parts of Kentucky to try to find themselves in the Village. Through the years when I interviewed Romany Marie, and in the course of my research for the book, I discovered several who have become lost in public awareness but who were big bohemians.
“As I say, here is a chance for LEO to lose its shame.—–bob.”
LEO’s shame may endure, but at least you got to read about it in Bob’s words. And some fine words they were.