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Bob Boozer called a while back, looking for help writing his biography.
He had already created a legacy with his actions, and I was pleased that he wanted to leave one in writing. I referred him to James Fogarty of Omaha, whose Legacy Preservation company publishes such books.
Two months ago today, I ran into Bob at the Omaha Press Club Show. A longtime member of the Nebraska Parole Board, Bob sat with friends, including Bob Houston, director of the state prison system.
“Booze” looked great. No one knew he had only weeks to live.
As Houston said Friday to funeral attendees at Morningstar Baptist Church — blocks from where his friend grew up in the 1940s and '50s — people stood in line to see Big Bob that night at the Press Club Show.
Reflecting on Boozer's “famous smile, infectious laugh and his innate ability to find irony and humor in everything,” Houston (pronounced Hal-ston) said he teased him about all the attention he still received at 75.
Boozer, who became famous as a basketball star, worked hard all his life — and never slowed down.
Fortunately, before his death May 19 of a brain aneurysm, he had completed nearly 25 hours of taped interviews for his biography, which will be published in six to eight months.
“Bob believed everything should be worked for,” Fogarty said. “He didn't cry any tears for people who came in front of him on the Parole Board. He was a tough nut to crack — he wanted to hear absolute, sincere remorse and a plan for the future.”
Bob once invited me to Boys Town, where he volunteered.
“We have occasion to see the baddest hombres in Nebraska,” he told teenagers at a family dinner table. “Guys who commit murders, rape, robbery. My first month, my toes curled under the table.”
He added: “If anybody asks you to do something negative, don't walk — run the other way. Once you get a felony behind your name, major corporations will not touch you.”
His was not a “scared-straight” speaking style. He urged kids to read, learn, pay attention to the world around them.
Talking about his experience with the 1960 Olympic basketball team, he reveled in how great it was to tour Rome, seeing the Appian Way, the Colosseum and all the other sites.
I first saw Bob Boozer up close when I was 12, standing at courtside before a Cincinnati Royals game. His teammate was my childhood idol, Oscar Robertson.
Bob played 11 years in the NBA, including with the Chicago Bulls, where the arena announcer always introduced him as “Bob B-o-o-o-o-zer.”
In 1971, Bob finished his career with Oscar on the champion Milwaukee Bucks. Afterward, on national TV in the joyous locker room, Bob said: “I want to say hi to all my friends in Omaha!”
He has been called a great ambassador for Omaha, a town sometimes known as the Big O. And in 1994, he invited the basketball great also known as the Big O — Oscar Robertson.
An entrepreneur, Robertson spoke to 150 people at a meeting of the Omaha Minority Purchasing Council. He said he had little sympathy for people who “blame everybody in the world but themselves.”
After Bob died, Robertson said they had been like brothers. They had similar philosophies, stable lives. Oscar and his wife Yvonne have been married 52 years. Bob and Ella Boozer were married 46 years.
After basketball, Bob spent 27 years working for Northwestern Bell and US West Communications. He retired in 1996, but soon was appointed to the Parole Board.
He served on numerous civic boards, and was an active supporter of the U.S. Olympic Committee and a proud alumnus of Kansas State and the old Omaha Tech High.
Years ago, he was honored with the naming of Bob Boozer Drive, which angles along the railroad tracks from about 162nd and Pacific Streets south to West Center Road near 156th Street.
Bob said people wrongly assumed the street naming was to honor his accomplishments. The real reason, he said with a laugh, was that he had long pestered public officials with the need to pave the road there, near his home. They eventually did so.
This son of a hotel maid and a packinghouse worker traveled a long road in life — from the frame house on the northwest corner of 25th and Erksine Streets to the Colosseum in Rome and beyond. His life story is definitely worthy of a book.
Robert L. Boozer, who never quit and who stayed mentally sharp, knew that the road to fulfillment for young people wasn't easy. Kids could do no better than to pattern themselves after a quality of Bob's that also became the name of that street.
In fact, we all would do well to emulate Bob Boozer's drive.
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