GLENWOOD SPRINGS — In the words of Bob Willey’s longtime friend and colleague Mike Wells, “let’s have a ceremony, eat a whole lot, drink some Coronas and laugh.”
“That’s just the way Bob wants it,” Wells said.
“As Bob would say,” added Joe Mollica, another of his friends and co-workers who offered memories and reflections at a Friday evening memorial service in Two Rivers Park, “Get out there and live life, and don’t be sad and pine away.”
And that’s just what about 300 friends and family of the longtime local educator, avid runner, theater performer and all-around lover of life did to pay their respects.
Willey, a teacher and school counselor for 38 years in several Roaring Fork Valley schools, participant in 35 of the 37 Strawberry Shortcut races and actor in many community theater productions and comedy sketches, passed away last week after a recent cancer diagnosis and a stroke. He was 66.
Words and music filled the August air, including a rendition of “Caledonia” sung by Karen and Tom Cochran,” a Glenwood Community Choir performance of “Deep, Deep Love,” and a piano solo of Eric Clapton’s “Layla, Part 2,” by Willey’s son-in-law, Eric Lamb.
As an educator, “he was a never-ending advocate for kids,” said Wells, the former longtime principal at Glenwood Springs High School. “He was always available and often a safety net for the kids.”
“He’s the fabric of who I am,” added Jack Green, fellow actor, teacher and regular running partner of Willey’s in the years after they met in the late 1970s.
“We called ourselves the junk runners back then,” Green said, describing many an evening run, still in their teacher clothes, through the streets of town or up on the hillside trails.
“That was part of the love, excitement and raw energy Bob brought to the world,” he said.
Their acting pursuits were “all about comedy and laughter,” Green added, “because there’s enough tragedy and horror in the world already.”
Karla Richards read a short story written by Willey, titled “Lions, Mean Dogs and Bears, Oh My,” describing the perils that can often present themselves when out running, “or just living life,” but concluding that it’s worth the many wonders that one will see along the way.
“You’ll find me running high up in the mountains, howling with delight,” he wrote.
“Bob, I know you’ve found your mountain,” Richards offered. “Run on dear friend, and enjoy the view.”
Willey is survived by his wife, Michele, and daughters Betsy and Cassidy.
“My dad lived,” Cassidy said in remembering her dad. “He was the most vibrant, fun-loving person I’ve ever known.”
She recalled that, as a young child, whenever she would throw a temper tantrum her dad would take her over to the mirror where she could see her contorted face with tears in her eyes and realize how ridiculous she looked, “until I just started laughing.”
And when it came to anything that anyone was doing, he would always ask, “does it bring you joy?,” she said.
Jeff Carlson, pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Glenwood Springs, read 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith;” fitting words for the life Bob Willey lived, he said.
“Go and live, go and live with joy, meaning and compassion,” Carlson concluded in his homily.