A tribute to a good friend, husband and father.

Robert N. Highway (Bob) – My 15 years with a great man.

In 1993 I was working at my last place of employment that I didn’t own or run. I was a 20 year old kid, a college drop out and self-taught computer nerd. Within this company and the one before I had worked my way up the ladder at a very fast pace going from data entry clerk to systems, network and database admin for a newspaper personals company. Needless to say, while I always claimed “I can do that!”, I found myself a bit over my head when it came to re-writing the entire database for this application. Migrating from an IBM System 36 to Paradox and then Access was quite an adventure.

Needing some help with this, I asked around and was introduced to a guy that worked for a local PBX installation company where he managed their IT and database platforms. He agreed to scope out the project and help me with not only the database re-write, but also with a migration from Lantastic to Novell (another fun adventure).

Bob Highway in the 80s
Bob Highway in the 80s

Bob, as I knew him then was a 30 year old, father of three, living on the West side of Buffalo, very close to where he had grown up. I think this picture  is a bit earlier than 1993, but this was Bob in his earlier days with his daughter.

He was a very hard worker, a genuine and nice human being, generous with his time, knowledge and anything else he had to offer. His family always came first and they knew that despite the countless hours spent working after dinner so that he could make ends meet and provide a brighter future for all of them.

Fast forward about a year and my projects have been complete, I was all set with a new database platform as well as a new network on a smokin’ hot 10 base-t (a big upgrade from Coax). I moved into a new apartment and my roommate and I were having a party. Having got to know Bob fairly well and having a lot in common with him, I invited him to come to the party. He wasn’t much of a drinker, but stayed until the very end where we found ourselves chatting it up and writing out some plans on a napkin. Plans to compete with my then current employer (who was a jerk to say the least). The napkin came true when my boss got suspicious of one of his sales reps and I talking. Before he could utter the words “you’re fired”, I had my car’s trunk packed with my books, computer, discs and everything else I might need. Time to move on!

By then it was just about 1995 and the plans were in motion to start our company. We received some private funding (very generously) and had enough for me to get going though Bob was going to help out and come on board full time when he could do so without risking his family’s financial needs. Ok w/ me and off I went. The first company, IVR, Inc. was formed in 1995. We were going to be a newspaper personals company and planned to compete with my former employer. Ha! That didn’t last long. It took a few months to get our software written and off the ground, but by then we had realized that the market was already saturated and we didn’t have the resources to compete effectively. All the while, though not at the office during the day, Bob helped me with the software and ultimately helped me get started so I could program myself when he wasn’t around. True to his word, Bob came on board after about a year and half, just in time to take over a lot of necessary programming and get involved with customer needs and support. Six months before coming on board, we changed our focus and became a toll-free service bureau writing automated telephone applications (Interactive Voice Response) for contests, sweepstakes, customer satisfaction surveys, medical research, data capture, dealer locator’s and automated outbound message  delivery. It was awesome, that with every job being different and all with recurring revenue. Like most businesses, the first few years were tough. We burned through our seed money and borrowed just in time as the money would run out. Eventually, in year three, our debt was caught up and the company was profitable. The snowball ran downhill.

These were great days for me, each day a challenge, a chance to learn and an opportunity to excel. I miss this business, the environment, naivity, the good natured people and most of all my partner Bob. The time spent at work, the long hours and late night support calls certainly wore thin on us and more so on our spouses, yet we pushed on promising “soon, soon”. This day came in late 2000 when we were approached by a competitor interested in buying us out to leverage our revenue, brand name and customer base. An opportunity hard to pass up at that age and with that little experience. Bob and I took the deal and sold the company in 2001, just in time before the Internet imploded. In hindsight, both of us may have thought differently about this, but you simply can’t change the past.

Bob stayed with the company for a year after that while I went on my way and started my next company. This company I started was name B2 Technologies with the distinct intention of it being Ben and Bob (B2) once again. Unfortunately that never panned out and I went my way while Bob went his. Bob sold his non-compete and started IVR Tech Group, a competing custom IVR service bureau while B2 became VoIP Supply as it is today.

Over the next five years, we didn’t talk much or see each other often, but when we did it was always as if no time had passed and we picked up the conversation as though it had never stopped. Oddly enough, with some issues within my family, Bob heard about them through the grapevine and called up as he wanted to talk and make sure I was ok. This was in the middle of January 2009 when we met at Friday’s for a couple of drinks and some conversation. We caught up, talked about work, talked about my woes and as a true friend, he offered to help in any way he could, even so far as to be a mediator and counselor to help us get through the issues. I never got the chance to take him up on the offer.

Nancy, Robbie and Bob
Nancy, Robbie and Bob

Here is a typical picture of Bob. Always with his family, always smiling, always genuinely happy to be where he is doing whatever it is he is doing. I wish I could be so lucky as I can’t say the same about myself and don’t know anyone else (well enough) that I could say the same of.

Bob and Tracy - Waving hello, not goodbye.
Bob and Tracy - Waving hello, not goodbye.

Bob had a couple of partners in his new company. Mike in Atlanta and another silent partner in Buffalo. Mike ran sales and was our sales manager years before at IVR, Inc. Also a genuine guy and a good friend, I always enjoyed hearing from Mike and often got the inside scoop on how Bob was, how the business was and in general how it was going at ITG.

On March 3, 2009, at 6:45pm, while I stood on my deck looking at the sunset and preparing to go to dinner with my brother, my cell phone rang and the caller id showed my friend Mike’s name. I’ve had some crappy phone calls in my day, but this one will never be forgotten. Mike proceeds to tell me that Bob has died. I thought for sure he was messing with me, how could my young and seemingly healthy 46 year old friend be dead? Maybe a car accident ws all I could think of. No, Mike gave me the details as he knew it. Bob was on a conference call with Mike and some others,  it was 8:30 in the morning. While on the call he excused himself from the conference session stating that he was not feeling well. Standing up and taking a couple of steps towards the hallway, my good friend, a devoted husband, caring father of three children, an overly generous son and brother to his family died before he was able to fall to the floor, apparently suffering from a blockage of blood flow to his heart.

Wow! What a shame for the world is not a better place without him. How unfair to his family, his children and his devastated wife. Poor Bob, to be taken from all that he loved with no time to say goodbye, no warning and at such an early age. With all of the thieves, murderers, abusers and otherwise evil people out there, how is it justified that Bob should go?

It certainly does make you think and remind you how important it is to make sure you are enjoying each day, that you are happy with who you are and what you have or make the necessary changes to get it before its gone. To prepare those you care for however uncomfortable that process may be. Tell your kids you love them everyday, take time to smell the flowers, walk the beach, climb a mountain, swim with the dolphins or whatever it is that you hope to do before you die.

Despite our disconnect and inability to get back into a working partnership after IVR was sold, I loved Bob as a brother and would have done anything for him. I miss him very much and hope that he felt no pain, going quickly to the next step on his journey. So sad, such a shame. 🙁

Goodbye my friend.

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