A fond farewell to a mentor, a friend, a kindred spirit, and one of the most memorable characters this writer ever had the pleasure to know.
I have a bone to pick with someone. Sadly, it won’t be with Robert W. Bone. Bob, whom I credit with (or blame for?) my decision to become a travel writer, died recently at the age of 90.
I was 20 years old in 1971, just out of university and my first trip to Europe, when I met Bob at The Honolulu Advertiser daily newspaper. We immediately connected as kindred spirits. Eighteen years my senior, he was a traveler, a man of the world who had already made a name for himself.
Bob graduated from Bowling Green State University in Ohio with degrees in journalism and Spanish, did a stint in the Army, then took a newspaper job in San Juan, Puerto Rico. There he became close friends with another renegade reporter, the infamous Hunter S. Thompson. (Bob and his car were portrayed as Hunter’s sidekicks in the movie The Rum Diary, unfortunately now better known as the set on which Johnny Depp met Amber Heard.) Chaos ensued. At some point, Bob fled to Brazil, where he resurfaced as a business editor in Rio de Janeiro.
Eventually Bob returned to the States, enjoying the single life in New York City — as an editor for Time-Life Books — until his bluff was called by a sassy Kiwi nurse named Sara Cameron. When Bob was hired as senior writer for Fielding’s Travel Guide to Europe, the couple headed across the Atlantic, settled in Majorca, Spain, and started a family.
At the start of the ‘70s, the Bones set their sights on another tropical archipelago: Hawaii, more-or-less midway between Bob’s parents in Ohio and Sara’s in New Zealand. He became a staff writer for the morning Advertiser. That’s where we met.
I had spent my two previous semester breaks in Honolulu as a summer intern at The Advertiser. I wrote sports, sitting in the press box with Al Michaels, then 26, and hanging out with baseball legends like Tommy LaSorda and Jimmie Reese, who just happened to have roomed with Babe Ruth when the Yankees were on the road. When I returned full-time a year later, it was as a features and religion writer. My big interview was an hour spent with the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham in his hotel room at the Royal Hawaiian. But my passion was travel.
During the next 2½ years, I learned from Bob what it meant to be a travel writer. Was it all fun and games? Hell, yes. So was sports writing. (John Henderson understands.) The transition from one to the other wasn’t a big deal. (From transcribing televangelists, maybe a bit more so.) But I also learned that “organization” doesn’t have to be Kondo style.
Bob was one of the most disorganized organized people I ever knew. His family life with two young children (God bless Sara) was pure pandemonium. But his full collection of original “Green Hornet” radio episodes — something he would have grown up with in the ‘30s and ‘40s — were carefully labeled, filed and stacked in shelves next to his home office. The Green Hornet strikes again! (My own style of itinerant organization was more along the lines of Blind Faith. When Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton lapsed into 15 minutes of “Do What You Like” at a Honolulu concert, they might have been singing my life story.)
I left Honolulu late in 1974, armed with a multi-stop round-the-world ticket sold to me by Bob and Sara’s personal travel agent. I island-hopped across the Pacific, with stops in Samoa and Fiji before I reached New Zealand. One year later, I was still there. Indeed, after twice renewing my ticket, I didn’t make it back to the USA during nearly three years of vagabonding across Asia and Europe. I remained in steady contact with Bob, long before cell phones and e-mail, with hand-written correspondence collected at a variety of locations, and contributed to his Maverick Guides to New Zealand and Australia. I was on my way to becoming a bonafide travel writer.
After a spell in Seattle, I made it back to Hawaii in 1980, having been awarded a graduate journalism fellowship to study Asian culture at the university there. This time, I came with a wife, Linda, and she was glad to bond with the Bones. (In fact, other than my immediate family, Bob anđ Sara were among the rare few people who met all three of my long-term partners.) My year’s study included intensive Japanese language, and with Bob’s support, I signed to write a guidebook to Japan … although I was forced to cancel that contract when another opportunity arose.
In early 1982 I went to Southeast Asia, to work for a Singapore-based publisher on a photo-laden travel guide to Sri Lanka. Over the next few years, as chief editor for APA Productions, I created numerous new and revised Insight Guides, editions of then mainly Asia- and Pacific-oriented books. But as the calendar pages flipped, I made fewer and fewer visits to Hawaii, where the Bones continued to reside.
In 1988, Bob was my primary sponsor when I joined the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). In 1995, in Honolulu, I was able to introduce the Bones to my son, Erik (born in Singapore in 1984). I worked in travel journalism in Seattle; Los Angeles; Boise, Idaho; Greenville, South Carolina; and finally Bend, Oregon, as a magazine editor and newspaper columnist. But whenever I was in the islands, a visit with the Bones was something I never wanted to miss. And on other occasions, Bob’s hearty belly laugh and trademark gap-toothed smile were a welcome sound and sight at SATW conventions.
One of my favorite memories occurred at California’s Universal Studios in 1992 as the theme park hosted a special evening for travel writers. We were greeted by numerous celebrity impersonators, including Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and “Doc Brown” from the Back to the Future movies. After enjoying visits to the sets of Jaws and King Kong, we retreated to an intimate watering hole, Telly’s, for drinks and story swapping. Bob and I sat together at the bar. Bob was impressed when a debonair, bald-headed man of about 70 offered to top off his drink. “Of all the celebrity impersonators I’ve seen tonight,” he said, “you are the best! You look just like that guy from Kojak!” “Thank you, sir,” said Telly Savalas himself. “That’s very kind of you to say.”
By the time of my last visit to Hawaii in 2016, Bob and Sara had retired to the mainland, where they lived in a retirement community in Walnut Creek, California. I saw them there once more, too many years ago.
In 2014, Bob published his autobiography: Fire Bone! A Maverick Guide to a Life in Journalism. I was among the friends he asked to read, review and proof the book before its publication. Soon thereafter, he was encouraging me to write my own memoir. Perhaps I will, someday … and I may not wait until I’m 81, as he did. I only wish Bob were around to read it.
He wrote me this email when he was 85, before I embarked on my latest adventure in Vietnam: “Your career over the years since leaving Hawaii has really been dramatic, John. At some point you, too, should write a memoir. I’ll give you some ideas if I’m still around. I get exhausted easily these days. I’m in pretty good shape for my age, but I do feel it, to be sure.”
Bob Bone made it another five years. He passed away 10 weeks ago, on February 1, reportedly of complications from a broken femur (hip). I can barely imagine what it must have been like to be a lifelong traveler, deprived of his cherished mobility.
Sail on, dear friend. Bone voyage. See you on the flip side.
7 thoughts on “95. Bone Voyage: Rest in Peace, Bob”
I certainly gained more insight in to your own colourful life “Andy”. A great read. Sorry for your loss mate
Lovely note on Bob Bones passing. He was a mentor to many and a connecting force to the younger generations. May he rest in eternal peace.
What a wonderful tribute.
Thank you for your comments. Good to hear from you. Good to hear from you and “back in the old days.”
I miss Bob very much but we were married 58 years so we were lucky –I keep reminding myself. We were still living in the same place in Walnut Creek. Our daughter has been living with us since we moved to California so she will continue to live here with me. She was very helpful to Bob and me after he broke his femur.
Keep in tough
You were very lucky, Sara. And what a remarkable guy Take care of yourself … I know Christina is a great help … Aloha, John
A wonderful and heartfelt piece, John. Sincere condolences for the loss of your friend.
Thanks, Jeff. But 90, wow! As my Aussie friends say, he had a bloody good innings. J