My brother, Bob, died on February 23, 2023. These are the words I spoke at his funeral in Ellicott City, Maryland.
Good morning. My name is Andrew Prokop and Bob was my older brother.
Most of you know the story of the blind men and the elephant. The first man felt its trunk and proclaimed, “It’s a long snake.” The second grabbed one of the elephant’s legs and said, “It’s shaped like the trunk of a tree.” The third ran his hands along its wide and floppy ears and announced, “No, an elephant is a large leaf.” Finally, the fourth blind man pushed against the elephant’s side and shouted, “You are all wrong. It’s a solid wall.”
That was my brother Bob. To the members of the Howard Astronomical League, Bob was a lover of the moon. To his fellow Veterans for Peace, Bob was someone who worked passionately to end war. To the residents of Brightview, Bob was their resident expert on classic movies. To his daughters, Lisa and Anna, Bob was a generous and loving father who was willing to do anything for his family. To his grandchildren, Alexandra, Thomas, Cameron, and Joseph, Bob was the best Boppa in the world. To the stranger who just met him, Bob was a joyous human being. And to me, Bob was my oldest and best friend. Two days would not pass when we did not call or write.
All of which makes this so difficult. How is it possible to distill Bob into a few pages? It’s not, but I will do my best with my time and hopefully paint a picture that resembles the man we all loved and respected.
Bob and I came from a big Catholic family of six kids – four boys and two girls. The six were then divided in half with Richard, the oldest, Bob, and me being in one camp, and Karen, Kenny, and Janet members of the second. While there was crossover after we grew into adulthood, this division held fast for a long time.
Once I grew old enough to keep up with them, the Richard, Bob, and Andrew trio often ran as a pack. It certainly helped that for much of our childhood we shared the same bedroom. That led to personality by osmosis. If one liked science fiction, we all liked science fiction. If Bob decided that his favorite bands were The Jefferson Airplane and The Mothers of Invention, we all agreed that they were indeed the best. If Richard decided that we needed to get up at 1:00 in the morning and drive to Saguaro Lake to fish for striped bass, that’s exactly what we did.
Of course, childhood doesn’t last forever and eventually we all went out on our own. Still, these early years continued to define who we were. And while Bob expanded his musical tastes beyond the Jefferson Airplane, both he and I would never turn down another spin of their best album, After Bathing at Baxter’s.
Bob was the only one of us Prokop kids not born in Arizona. He entered this world on June 18, 1952 in Patterson, New Jersey. I won’t go into the reasons why Richard was born in Arizona, Bob wasn’t, and I was. The important thing is that Mom and Dad came to their senses and called Arizona home from 1956 on.
Bob loved growing up in Arizona. From our modest home in old Scottsdale, we could easily ride our bikes into the untamed, wild Sonoran Desert. After Richard got his driver’s license and first car, a Pontiac Le Mons, we would drive up north into the pine country of Payson and Flagstaff. Sometime around 1970, Bob discovered the Mazatzal Mountains Wilderness Area, and it became our go-to destination for many backpacking trips.
I need to take a quick segue here. If you knew Bob, you knew how painfully stubborn he could be. Right or wrong, he would take a stance and there was nothing you could do to sway him from it. When we hiked the Mazatzal Mountains (an indigenous word meaning “the place of the deer”), we only knew them from a name on Bob’s topographical map. As such, we pronounced them as “Ma-zat-sal.” Later, I learned that the word was in fact pronounced “Maz-as-el” – think “mad as hell.” I told this to Bob and his response was something akin to, “Ma-zat-sals” they were and “Ma-zat-sals” they shall forever remain.” I am sure that Anna and Lisa could chime in with thousands of examples of Bob’s stubbornness on their own, but we don’t have all day.
Despite moving away from home in 1975 to join the army, Bob’s love of the 48th state never wavered. Prior to COVID and Bob’s inability to travel far from home, he and I would make pilgrimages back there to spend time with Mom before heading out on an adventure. On our last trip, we decided to visit as many Indian ruins as we could in a single day. From Montezuma’s Castle to Tuzigoot, Bob was in heaven. A painting Bob made of a photo I took that day hangs proudly on my home office wall. As a parting gift, we made a stop at the foot of the Mazatzals to pay homage to our youth and youthful adventures. I am thankful that I didn’t know that would be our last time there together.
I can’t tell you when Bob discovered science fiction, but whenever that was it quickly consumed him. I have fond memories of scouring the local bookstores with Bob for Clifford Simak, Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke, E. E. “Doc” Smith, Harry Harrison, and countless other authors of the golden age of Science Fiction.
By the way, Bob hated it when people called it Sci Fi. He was and remained a purist.
His love bled into science fiction movies – both the good and the bad. In fact, his love for bad science fiction movies was practically famous. KPHO Channel Five was Arizona’s independent TV station and Saturday afternoon would find us Prokop boys glued to the tube for classics like Cat Women on the Moon, It Conquered the World, and Radar Men from the Moon. His love for bad movies continued long after Arizona and his vast collection of DVDs contains many of those 1950s classics.
Another segue. Bob voraciously bought CDs and DVDs, but had no interest in their packaging. As soon as one arrived in the mail, he would take out the disk and throw away the cover. Personally, I hated that. For me, the case was artwork, but to Bob it was clutter and Bob had no use for clutter.
Bob’s love for science fiction led him and his friends to start three fanzines between 1970 and 1972. For the unaware, a fanzine is a fan magazine or zine. Back in the day, they were typed and mimeographed. Twibbet and Garuda were the more traditional zines. They contained reviews, commentaries, short stories, and reports from science fiction and fantasy conventions like the one Bob wrote about Mythcon II.
The third zine was something completely different. Socialist Realism Science Fiction was an off-the-wall parody of communist propaganda along with bad poetry and stories by Sam X, the cat of one of Bob’s friends. Bob was listed as Minister of Agitation. After believing that all copies were hopelessly lost, Bob and I went on an Internet search and surprisingly found digitized versions of both editions. They are something you read once and ask yourself, “What in the world were they thinking?”
One last thing about Science Fiction. Bob and his buddies were responsible for creating the first ever Arizona Science Fiction Convention. They called it Leprecon and it is still in existence today. Sadly, Bob was only able to attend the first one. Life away from Arizona kept him from the others.
The Russian language was a huge part of Bob’s life and yet he stumbled into it. The story he told me was that when he started at Arizona State University there was a language requirement and Bob chose Russian simply because it didn’t use the Latin alphabet. It was as simple as that, but it took him on a path he never expected. I am pretty sure that at the time he would have said he was going to be an astronomer, but his love of the Russian language, and his talent for learning it made him do an about face.
Bob and I often spoke about the butterfly effect. In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the idea that a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.
The Russian language was one of Bob’s many butterfly moments. Without the decision to take Russian 101, Bob would not have gone to the University of Arizona in Tucson to work on a master’s degree. If Bob didn’t go to UofA, he would not have gone broke and made his spur of the moment decision to join the army. Without the army, Bob would not have met nor married Diane. Without Diane there would not have been Lisa or Anna. Without Lisa or Anna there would not have been Alexandra, Thomas, Cameron, or Joseph.
Who knows where these butterfly ripples end? Did you know that Bob didn’t learn how to drive a car until he was in the army and Diane taught him? If Bob didn’t learn to speak Russian, would he have spent the rest of his adult life bumming rides or taking the bus? We will never know.
An offshoot of Socialist Realism Science Fiction was the formation of the People Power Party and in December of 1971 Bob ran for the Scottsdale City Council under its banner. He was 19 years old, and his candidacy came as a shock to many people, including our parents. The last thing they wanted was to be seen as anarchists, but to their credit, they didn’t try to stop him.
That didn’t stop the city of Scottsdale from doing what it could to keep him off the ballot. It turns out that the city charter stated that you had to be a property owner to hold office. Bob told them that he would fight the ordinance, but rather than lawyering up, the city decided to wait and see if he won. Sadly, he did not, but he wasn’t the lowest vote getter. In fact, he was quite proud that he spent less than two dollars on his campaign (a ballpoint pen and something to drink at a candidate forum) and yet still received more votes than another candidate that spent thousands of dollars.
At the height of the Vietnam war, Bob concluded that his conscience did not allow him to kill someone. This led him to the arduous process of receiving a Conscientious Objector status. I don’t recall many of the details, but he eventually obtained it.
Bob could be an unpredictable man of many contradictions. Still, it came as a big surprise when he chose to enlist in the United States Army a few years later.
Despite my initial shock, the army was a good fit for Bob. He learned how to make a bed, became fluent in Russian, and built a skillset that stayed with him until retirement.
After leaving the army and a long, successful career at the National Security Agency, Bob turned his energy towards confronting the war machine and became an active and passionate member of Veterans for Peace. He would speak to me with such pride about the marches and rallies he attended. This child of the 1960s had returned to his roots.
Along the road of Bob’s life, children were born, a shoulder was broken, an MBA achieved, houses were bought and sold, teenage years were survived, and Bob, Diane, Lisa, and Anna crisscrossed the world – from Augsburg, Germany to Ellicott City. My life was just as complicated and sadly Bob and I drifted apart for many of those important years. Except for a visit to Maryland and one or two brief encounters in Arizona, there was too much time when we weren’t involved all that much in each other’s lives.
Then came Diane’s cancer and everything changed. Upon hearing the news, I immediately called Bob and asked, “What can I do?” Sadly, despite everyone’s heroic efforts, there wasn’t anything that anyone could do to make the cancer go away and a little more than a year later, Diane was gone.
Despite the horrific pain, life went on. Lisa married Dan. Twice. Anna met Ryan, and they too were married. Once. Four wonderful grandchildren were born. Bob retired and found new meaning in the Howard Astronomical League and Veterans for Peace. Our father and older brother Richard passed away. Three books were written. Bob moved, moved again, moved again, and finally made his way to Brightview.
And here we are today. In shock and in pain, but thankful for knowing the man that was Bob Prokop. Over the past month we have grieved, cried, consoled, and sometimes even laughed together. Trust me, Bob would want us to laugh. None of us will ever stop loving the man-child that was Bob and with that love comes a wealth of emotions. It’s essential that we feel all of them.
Bob was a deeply spiritual person and although he didn’t willingly choose death, neither did he fear it. He was certain of his place beyond the physical world despite not being able to truly define it. A definition wasn’t important to him, though. His faith and belief were, and both burned bright within Bob.
Which brings us to his creator’s view of the elephant we call Bob. Unlike us mere mortals, his higher power sees him for everything he was and is — not only what Bob chose to show us, or what we were able to perceive. We are talking about the whole enchilada, and I am certain that that view is just fine — warts and all.
Bob, wherever you are, I hope you are pain free and at peace. Everyone who knew you will miss the intelligent, goofy, caring, moon fanatic, striped-shirt-wearing, funny, map loving, big D Democratic voting, curious, artistic, silent movie expert, opinionated, generous, kind, childish, resilient, Stilton cheese pot collector, loud, passionate, prone to exaggeration, loving, and lovable man that you were. Those who did not have the privilege of meeting you will have missed out on so much. It’s now up to all of us here today to keep your memory and dreams alive.
You can rest easy knowing that you leave behind the most important legacy anyone can ask for – two amazing daughters and son in laws, healthy, smart, and thriving grandchildren, steadfast friends, and a vast extended family. I am talking about people like you Norma, Bob, Linda, Maria, and too many more to mention. You also leave us with the inspiration that we all can and must be willing to do the hard work necessary to make this world a better place.
Godspeed, Brother. I won’t be calling or writing tomorrow but be assured that I would if I could.
Thanks for sharing Andrew. You met your goal of keeping the memory of your brother alive for this reader.
Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts, Bud. Bob was an amazing man and my eulogy barely scratched the surface of all that he accomplished in his too short life.
Thank you for sharing all those wonderful memories, Andrew. Bob’s legacy will forever live on.
Thank you, Rick. His legacy is his family and despite their loss, they are thriving.
Good to see such memories and it will stay with you and your family.
Thank you! Bob will always be with me.
Thank you for sharing Andrew. Thank you
You’re welcome. Thank you for reading.