Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rob Evans, 1973-2010

"Everyone grieves in their own way." It's a truism, but that doesn't make it false. Some people post on Facebook. Others cry at home or in the embrace of a loved one. Others find solace in numbers, music and conversation.

What I found, when my dear friend Rob Evans died here in the UAE, was that the act of writing his obituary brought me some peace. Talking to so many people who loved him and hearing their stories – and there were countless stories, all punctuated with laughter – maybe helped my subconscious focus on who he was, not what happened to him.

Mrs Blog and I were dancing with him at a Prince concert on Friday night less than an hour before he died. Before that we had enjoyed his company, his wit, his antics on two continents.

We spent Saturday crying and remembering. Below is the story of his life and the people he touched.


Rob and his son, Seren.

Gerry Doyle

Robert Evans had a knack for finding happiness and adventure without really trying, his friends and family said.

Never one to formulate a careful roadmap to his destination, he instead took joy in simply experiencing life as it happened. During a trek through Spain with his brothers and father this summer, he illustrated that with what he packed – and did not pack – for a 100-kilometre walk.

“I brought an enormous rucksack ... prepared for any eventuality,” said his brother David, 47. “He had a very small bag. I think he had a T-shirt. I don’t think he even had a towel or a toothbrush.”

While his brother struggled under the weight of his gear, Rob “was able to walk around at just an incredible rate. I asked him, ‘What if it rains?’ He said, ‘It’s not going to rain. It’s Spain!’

“And he was right.”

Rob, 37, an assistant photo editor for The National, died unexpectedly early Saturday morning during a concert on Yas Island.

Born in 1973 in Gibraltar, where his British father, Jeremy, was stationed in the Royal Air Force, he grew up in a half-dozen locales, from around the UK to Belgium and even briefly back to Gibraltar.

He went to boarding school from 1982 to 1991, visiting his family on holidays wherever they happened to live. When he finished A-levels, however, his mother, Jean, was gravely ill. She died a few months after he graduated.

“It made his teenage years quite difficult in a way,” his brother said. “He was trying to start life out as an adult, but he didn’t have mum there to help him.

“He wanted to try different things. He had difficulty finding something to settle down into.”

He lived with his father for the next year and a half, then went on to attend Middlesex University in London, where he later graduated with a BA diploma in American Studies and Art History.

“He’d got very kind of arty-crafty in his ideas and thoughts and pursuits at that stage,” his father said. “He was always so strongly attracted to America and American life ... I think it was a combination that appealed to him.”

It was a turnabout from his childhood dreams, in which a fascination with aircraft led him to receive a flying scholarship from the RAF, he added.

After graduation, he stayed in London and worked a series of jobs as he tried to settle on a career. At one point he was driving a taxi around the city and working for a company that sold butcher knives, his father said.

“We were always terrified because he would come around to see us, and he’d open up the back of [the car] this thing and we would see the most horrifying collection of blades,” his father said, leading them to worry what would happen if his taxi were hit from behind.

His love of music led him to gigs that included a five-year stint as assistant to the event director of the EXIT music festival in Serbia.

That is where he met Reetu Rupal, 32, his girlfriend of four years.

“Rob was a massive music fan, and was sort of in his element in those sort of things,” Ms Rupal said. “I was over there DJ-ing. My DJ partner couldn’t make it so I was there on my own. ... [Rob and I] hit it off, swapped numbers and stuff. And when we came back to England, he came to see me play.”

She said his love of music, adventure and American culture played a huge role in his life. He lived for a time in Memphis and San Francisco, went to services at Al Green’s church and took a Greyhound bus from America’s West Coast to the East.

“Rob loved being surrounded by his friends. He always had a story to tell and would always contribute sort of long stories about the times in his life,” she said.

“He told me how he got to New Orleans once,” she said. “He arrived with a little bag and a Lonely Planet guide. He went into a bar and ordered a scotch or something, then went off to the toilet to read his guide so no one could tell he was a tourist. Then he had some sort of mad moment and literally tore out the pages listing the youth hostels and threw the rest of it in the toilet.”

“That kind of summed up Rob. He was such an adventurer.”

The birth of his son, Seren, in 2002 changed his life, his father said.

“Seren gave him an emotional focus, outside his social life and his attempts to get settled into some kind of career,” his father said. “He’s been a wonderful father. Absolutely devoted to the little lad.”

Helen McLaughlin, a friend of Rob who worked with him at The National, said his curiosity about the world and appetite for knowledge bolstered his connection with his son. So, too, did his tremendous sense of fun.

She recounted one of his favourite stories: “He took Seren to [the London toy store] Hamleys. But he told Seren, ‘We’re going to go to this really, really big toy shop. The thing about it is, though, is that I know sort of where it is, but not really.’ They got off the Tube early and Rob took Seren down the opposite side of the road, deliberately missing the store.

“Finally they were across the street from it, but Rob was looking in the wrong direction,” apologising for not being able to find this wondrous store, Ms McLaughlin said. “Seren was there tugging at his trousers, pointing across the street, saying, “There! There! I’ve found it!”

In 2005, Rob began his first job in journalism, as a picture editor and head of assignments at the Press Association in London. He came to work at The National in 2008. Photo editing was something he loved, his family said, and in recent years he had “really started to realise his potential in a big way”, his father said.

“If you looked around and tried to find all the bits that made Rob, Rob, you couldn't find it in a dozen people,” said Mark Asquith, a co-worker and close friend of Rob. “Music, football, politics, recent British history – there wasn’t any topic about which Rob wasn’t able to talk intelligently.”

That wide range of experience carried over into his work, Mr Asquith said: “He was a guy I could always turn to when I was stuck for ideas. ... you could see [Rob’s personality] in his work.”

“Rob’s wit was surpassed only by his keen eye for images that brought our foreign pages, and more recently M magazine, to life,” said Hassan Fattah, editor of The National. “He was a friend and a colleague who always lived life to the fullest and embraced the best the world had to offer. He made life’s troubles and challenges bearable and surmountable. I will miss him immensely.”

His father recounted the end of their 100-kilometre hike through Spain to a traditional pilgrimage destination known as Cape Finisterre – a name derived from the fact that thousands of years ago, it was seen as the edge of the world. The lighthouse there is actually marked “The End of the World”, he said, and is about five kilometres outside town.

“It was a tough walk,” he said. “Rob arrived first, then I staggered in, then the other boys an hour after that.”

As they waited in a pub for Rob's’ brothers to arrive, “I said to him, ‘Rob, the other boys aren’t here yet, and I just don’t think we’re going to be able make it [to the lighthouse] in what’s left of the afternoon”, his father said.

“Rob said to me, ‘Well, it’s not the end of the world’.

“And I was able to trump that by saying, ‘Well, actually, Rob – it is.’ And we all laughed.”

Other family members include a brother, Paul; his stepmother, Kate; two stepbrothers, Tom and Will Kerry; and a stepsister, Emily Kerrigan.

Services in the UK are being planned.

gdoyle@thenational.ae

9 comments:

Pietro Devon said...

i'm cried as i read this. man, i am so sorry. what a wonderful man rob was. my heart goes out to his family and friends.

Pietro Devon said...

i cried as i read this. man, i am so sorry. what a wonderful man rob was. my heart goes out to his family and friends.

Gemma Champ said...

By the way, Gerry, did you know Rob was a big fan of your blog? He was reading the Mardi Gras entry on the way down to Dubai on the Tuesday before, howling with laughter.

Carl said...

A great article on a great person, he will be missed hugely by everyone who had a part in his life.

Dom R said...

I knew Rob from his time at The Press Association where he worked on the celebrity picture desk. At a place often bereft of life Rob was a genuine and unaffected breath of fresh air. I valued the time we spent chatting about this and that and in particular hearing of his relationship with his son. The last time I saw him at his leaving drinks he was his usual happy, chatty, witty self and excited about the future.
He was a fine man, great company and I send my sincerest condolences to all those who knew him better.
Dom

Sarah said...

I knew Rob through my brother Carl, this great article has filled me in on all the parts of his life I didn't know about. I can safely say I never saw Rob without his big beaming "Rob" smile on his face-this is how I will remember him.

Akua Ofosuhene said...

Hi Jerry, lovely to find you in blog land. I'm going to be starting a blog about Rob for Seren. He's got quite used to looking at photos of his dad on facebook. Please keep in touch. It would have meant a lot to Rob and now to Seren.
Seren opened his father suitcase from Abu Dhabi today and played dress up in his father's clothes and kept on getting into the suitcase to be closer to his 'father's spirit'
He's asleep now with Rob's jacket over him. I'll mail you a picture of him in Rob's swimming goggles, shin pads, plimsolls, tie, Kangol cap and using his dad's racket as a guitar.
all the best
akua

Rob said...

This makes me so sad. I only just tried to contact Rob and wondered why the message bounced back. I'm so sorry. Our relationship was professional. He was instantly on my "good guys" list, editors who are receptive to story ideas. He leaves a void. I'm so sorry.

Rob said...

This makes me so sad. I only just tried to contact Rob and wondered why the message bounced back. I'm so sorry. Our relationship was professional. He was instantly on my "good guys" list, editors who are receptive to story ideas. He leaves a void. I'm so sorry.