It was a normal day in South Africa when Bobby Model visited from his home in Kenya. Bobby and his sister Faith were driving to visit a friend when a chunk of concrete smashed against the hood of the truck and bounced through the windshield. Bobby was hit in the head.
In a way, that's the whole story. It was the end of the road for the man most of us knew. But in reality, it was the beginning of a whole new story about Bobby Model. In the days that became months that became years after June 2007, the incredible circle of friends and family that Bobby had created came forth. He was treated first in South Africa, then in New York City, and then in a series of hospitals in Denver. After 18 months, he was well enough to move back home to Cody, Wyoming. He lived there in his own home, though under constant care, from December of 2008 until September 16. He was 36.
In the small Wyoming climbing community, Bobby was well known, widely loved and always up for an adventure. I met him at the University of Wyoming in the early 1990s, and he, Tom Rangitsch and I climbed all the routes we could scrap our way up at Vedauwoo, and then spent the long, cold winter nights bouldering in a garage gym.
Later, Bobby joined the motivated crew of Lander climbers such as Scott Milton, Will Hair, Todd Skinner, Skip Harper and dozens of others. He was a talented and balanced climber, as comfortable on 5.12 cracks as he was on pockets, and a solid ice climber and alpinist as well. In 1995 he joined Mike Lilygren, Todd Skinner, Bill Hatcher, my brother Jeff Bechtel and me on a trip to climb Trango Tower (Cowboy Direct, VII 5.13a, was the first Grade VII free climb in the world). It was here that Bobby first showcased his talent for photography.
Slowly, his passion for capturing images took precedence over climbing. Featured on the cover of the April 1996 issue of National Geographic, Bobby later became a regular contributor to the magazine, as well as to other publicationsincluding Rock and Ice, Climbing, Outside, Adventure and the New York Times. His assignments took him to Southeast Asia, Patagonia, Greenland, the Mideast, Eastern Europe andBolivia. Later, he moved his home base to Nairobi, Kenya. There he helped with relief work in the Sudan, tracked down a giant crocodile in Burundi, and climbed the snowy peaks of East Africa.
Bobby was soft-spoken, kind and gentle. He was compulsively organized in his work, but relaxed in most other facets of his life. He saw each person as his equal and was generous with his time. He often tried to come across as crude, even insensitive, but Bobby was one of the most compassionate people I have ever known.
Bobby suffered terribly in the last two years of his life. I continually come back to the question that begs why he had to go through so much pain only to die. What gift could life possibly bring him in those years? My answer, and I believe the only answer, is that these past two years were his gift to us; to give his friends the opportunity to grow together, to tell our friend how much we love him, and to know that somehow we'd be all right without him.