Community reflects on loss of 'genuine' man
A few days before he shut his eyes for the last time, Bob Pettigrew bought a sit-down electrical scooter. He wanted it for two reasons: to be able to spend more quality time with his granddaughter, and to be able to visit the MUB again to see students.
In the days following his death, friends and family members remembered that genuine dedication to family and students that Pettigrew brought to UNH for 20 years.
Robert "Bob" Pettigrew died peacefully at his Rochester home on Saturday. He was 66.
'It came so easy to him'
After retiring from UNH in the fall, where he served as a financial consultant closely working with students within the Student Activity Fee Committee for the last 11 years, Pettigrew was looking forward to spending more time with his only granddaughter, 4-year-old Lily.
"She was everything to him," MUB Director MaryAnne Lustgraaf said. "That was the neatest thing to see his relationship with her grow."
Last Christmas, Lily was into the movie and book "The Polar Express." So the week leading up to the holiday, Pettigrew found a bell that looked very similar to the one featured in "The Polar Express."
He put it in a box with Lily's name on it and enclosed a note from Santa in it that described the meaning of the gift and the meaning of the holidays.
Lily's face lit up when she saw it.
"She'll have that forever," Lily's mother and Pettigrew's daughter Holly Pettigrew said. "One day we'll explain it all to her and how great he was."
Bob was known for that sort of thing.
During Easter, he'd make rhyming riddles on note cards with hints that led to a dozen other note cards before the destination of the present was finally revealed.
"It came so easy to him," Holly said.
'All my kids'
During Bob's time at UNH, he often told people that he held "the best job on campus" and that "these students are like my own kids."
"He'd always say that he loved the students at UNH," Bob's son Bobby Pettigrew said. "It was funny to hear him talk about students as if they were his kids when I was actually his child. But that's the kind of guy he was. He genuinely cared about all of them."
At the end of summer in 2011, he invited a couple of students, including SAFC CFO Mike Germaske, to his Rochester home for a beginning of the school year dinner.
Germaske went in expecting to order pizza and hang out for a little while on the porch.
When he showed up, Bob had cooked a full steak-and-potatoes meal to welcome the students.
"I didn't even know he could cook," Germaske said. "He dealt with us like we were his own kids. Aside from my grandfather, I've never been that close with someone that age."
Last fall, Germaske was sitting in his office across the hall from Bob. He was going through some personal issues, but tried to put it aside when he got to work.
As he always did, Bob popped his head in and said hello.
Germaske looked up and returned the greeting without showing any emotion about how he was feeling.
Bob shut the door behind him and sat down.
"What's wrong?" Bob asked.
Germaske was taken aback. He didn't show any emotion or say anything out of the ordinary. And yet Bob knew something was wrong.
"There was something about that guy," Germaske said. "He always knew what people needed to hear, but he was very genuine about it. It wasn't forced. That's just who he was, and I think it'll be a part of his legacy."
To help further his legacy, his children have met with UNH officials about starting a scholarship in his name. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to:
he Bob Pettigrew Memorial Gift Fund for scholarships at the UNH Foundation, Inc., Edgewood Road, Durham, N.H. 03824.
Friends and family may visit the R.M. Edgerly & Son Funeral Home in Rochester on Friday, March 30, from 5-8 p.m., and a memorial service is scheduled for Saturday, March 31, at 10:30 a.m. at the same location.
'Til death do us part
A couple of years ago, UNH alums Kyle LaFountain ('07) and wife Jennifer ('04) went to Bob with a favor to ask of him.
On their special day, they wanted Bob to play a special role.
They mistakenly thought Bob was a Justice of the Peace and asked Bob to be the one to marry them.
"Of course," Bob said to them. It didn't matter that he wasn't a Justice of the Peace. He'd fill out the necessary forms to become one.
After a year and a stack of paperwork, Bob was certified to marry them. But in the time during the process, Kyle and Jennifer changed their minds. They wanted to be married in Maine now.
No matter, Bob thought. He'd just find a way to become of a Justice of the Peace in Maine. That didn't work out though.
So, in May of 2011, Bob officially married Kyle and Jennifer in the student senate office of the MUB with friends of the two standing around them.
A few days later, the couple held their ceremony in Maine.
"My best memories happened with Bob in the MUB," Kyle said with a laugh.
'A great sense of humor'
Bob's passion, according to co-workers, was with the students. But his loud laugh, and upbeat personality made him close with his co-workers.
He was a fan of New England sports teams and never missed the chance to heckle a New York fan.
"He had a great sense of humor," David May, assistant vice president of business affairs, said. "He'd bust your chops, but he'd always be able to take it back."
May and Bob worked together for five years in the UNH Dining department, and recalls Bob helping him create the dining budget during his first week on the job.
"I was brand new here and Bob really helped me get through that," May said. "The rest is history."
Lustgraaf remembers a time when a UNH worker who didn't often work with students approached Bob and asked him how he got any work done with students constantly in his office.
Bob just looked back at him and laughed out loud.
"All he could do was laugh," Lustgraaf said. "His passion for students was always there."
About 10 years ago, Bob went golfing for the first time in his life with fellow new-golfer Ron Bailey, who has worked in the MUB for the last 16 years.
He was always up for anything, Bailey said.
The two took their hacks at nine holes at a course in Somersworth.
"We hobbled around," Bailey said. "We just talked and enjoyed our company. That's what he was all about.
"I considered him a very good friend and I'm really, really sad that he didn't get to make it to many years of retirement."
'Life is short'
Bob used to tell his family not to cry when he passed away.
"It should be a celebration," he would tell them. In the days since his passing, his family said they've tried to keep that in mind.
"It's impossible though," Holly said. "We have been laughing a lot looking back on everything. He would be laughing too."
Bobby, who lived a short drive away in Dover, called his father every day at lunch and most nights before bed.
On Friday, the day before Bob took his last breath, Bobby stopped by his father's house.
He remembers their conversation vividly. It was eerie, Bobby said.
"He looked at me and said 'Life is short Bobby. Make the most of it.'"
Then Bobby got ready to leave his father's house. He looked at his dad and told him he loved him.
"I love you, too," the father replied. "I'll see you tomorrow."
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