Bob Devlin and I met at Leland Junior High School – that was originally the second campus of BCC. The first was on Wilson Lane. Cast into the concrete lintel over what was the original entrance to the building were the words: “Bethesda Chevy Chase High School”. I think BCC moved to the East-West Highway location in the mid-30s.
Bob and I started playing folk music together at BCC. After high school, we attended St. Andrews University together (the place had a less ostentation name back then – St. Andrews Presbyterian College). We did a lot of performances on campus and many at local clubs too. Bob graduated with his BA degree from St. Andrews. I left after two years to chase a career in broadcast engineering.
1969 was a bad year to be under twenty-five, healthy, not in school and male. Having completed his bachelor's degree at St. Andrews, Bob was all of these things. He got the dreaded letter which opened: "Greetings: Your friends and neighbors . . . ." I knew that letter. Mine had arrived in 1967. I had just completed my two years in the Army and was back only a few months from my year as a buck sergeant in the jungles of Vietnam's very lovely, but very dangerous, Central Highlands. I was so glad to be home out of uniform, out of Vietnam and still in one piece. But, I was horrified by what Bob was about to do.
Bob had passed his physical and declared himself a conscientious objector: a C-O. I begged him to change his draft status. I told him that C-Os all go to Fort Sam Houston and train to become medics. Most go to Vietnam with nothing but a medical bag armed with band aids and anti-malaria pills. But, Bob stuck to his beliefs. He despised the war. He would not leave the country. He would not go to jail. He would serve honorably in a dishonorable war.
As it turns out, both of us were right. Bob did go to Fort Sam. He did become a medic. But, Bob was sent to Germany for the remainder of his service. He passed out aspirins and took temperatures. Evenings he would play in German pubs. He enjoyed Europe so much that after his service obligation ended, he stayed in England for a year just to play music.
When we were making music together, Bob’s feet proved to be a constant problem. He didn’t tap his feet. He POUNDED his feet. Terrific exuberance. That untamed energy got into microphones ,of course, and caused a great deal of trouble. Bob eventually harnessed his energetic feet as drivers of various percussion instruments – kick drum, high-hat and such. In the process he also found his stage name: Bob Devlin- The One Man Band. He became a street musician and a mainstay on the downtown streets of DC. His first recording was titled Live at 18th & M. Bob became such a figure in the 70’s street music scene that Time Magazine published a short piece about him.
Bob went on to create six albums throughout his career. You can hear clips and buy his recordings at this website: http://bobdevlin.bandcamp.com/ He did a lot of performing in Montgomery County Public Schools and private parties too. The major adult venues in which Bob performed included: National Theatre, Kennedy Center, Wolf Trap, and the White House.
The last time I saw Bob was February, 1995 when he and his wife, Linda, came to my house for a birthday party. He looked well and was his usual engaging self. But he said that he was ill with heart disease. He had an enormous fear of the awful manner in which his father had died from heart disease. Bob’s body, like his dad’s, made bad cholesterol no matter what his diet was or how much he exercised. Some stents had been implanted in his heart only months earlier. He said that he may have had a heart attack. His doctors weren’t certain about that. The party ended. We promised each other to get together soon and play some music. But, we both went back to our routines.
Then, late the following May his wife, Linda, called. She was distraught and hard to follow, but the gist of her message was unambiguous. Linda had just become a widow. She wanted me to preside over Bob’s funeral service and to deliver the main eulogy for my best friend. That afternoon, in the family home, Bob had committed suicide.
His funeral service was attended by so many friends that Pumphrey’s Funeral home on Wisconsin Avenue put seating and closed circuit TV in all possible rooms. Channel 7 TV sent out a remote crew to report the story. The memorial service was an extraordinary outpouring of grief and remembrance the like of which I have never experienced since.
Under Bob’s sunny persona and his enthusiastic embrace of life lurked the curse of depression. It manifested most strongly in the spring. Perhaps the toxic combination of his recent medical diagnosis and the spring spike of depression overwhelmed him. Those who were close to Bob will always carry feelings of guilt for our fatal failure to observe, to comprehend and to intervene on behalf of a friend.
Bob lived an energetic, engaged, productive life. His legacy is a generation of school kids who were introduced to live acoustic music and now, as parents themselves, buy Bob’s music for their children. He had that enduring effect on those who heard his music. All who knew him will miss him forever.
I did not know Bob Devlin well, but I am glad that I knew him as well as I did. Through high school, he was just someone whom I had met, and with whom I had probably exchanged no more than 5 sentences. Then, at our 10 year BCC reunion we had a long conversation and became better acquainted. We saw each other and talked several times through the rest of his life. I remember one gloomy night a couple of years ago playing one of his LPs and being cheered by it.
(As for BCC having a previous campus before Leland: My sister's former next door neighbor, Mildred Chapin Smith [1914-199?], was one of the original students at BCC, and graduated in the first full class, big enough to have a yearbook, in 1932. (The school granted a few diplomas before that.) I do not remember flawlessly, but she told me that when BCC was supposed to open in 1928, the building had not been completed on schedule, so students enrolled in it were sent mostly to sit in the cafeteria at Bethesda Elementary School, on Wilson Lane, with a few activities, for a couple of weeks.) (There have been several versions of Bethesda Elementary School, so it is likely that what was there in 1928 was not what was there within the memory of anyone our age.)
Bill thanks for filling in the gaps about Bob Devlin. He and I were in gym together and in the same weight class so we wrestled a few times. He had more upper body strength, but I was taller and we were evenly matched. He was always enthusiastic and easy to talk with. When I read a Post article in the early '90s about a Bob Devlin one man band I made of point of looking for him several times when business meetings took me into that part of town, but I never saw him. I read of his death (history majors read obituaries) and was sorry I had missed him. He was a great guy in high school and I'm glad he had a full, if too short life. And if you have something to do with the web site that keeps Bob's work alive thanks for that too.
G. Francis Schum
An abounding Christian spirit, and brother in Christ, with a talent and genius dedicated to helping others and changing lives. Like a stone cast in a pond, the ripples of his love, energy, and purpose still roll and radiate, through his music. Our children, and grandchildren know his songs and sing them today! Praise God for you and your gift, Bob Devlin!
Michelle Hochman (Schuster)
Although I didn't know Bob Devlin in high school, I certainly wa a fan of his music later on and was thrilled when I learned that he was in our class. I may still have one of his LP's lurking in a box in my basement!
I just wanted to say that his music still lives on, in my family too! My daughter and I take my grandchildren to a Music Together class. When winter rolls around, our teacher always includes Bob's "Snowman Song", even though it is not in the 'official' curriculum! With its cheery, catchy tune and fun lyrics, it's a big hit with the little ones and grown-ups alike!
Nancy Webster (Emery)
I remember taking my son to see a concert that Bob did at Hoover Middle School back in the 80's It was very entertaining and really neat to see a "one man" band. It was sad to see that he passed away as he he was a remarkable musician.