by Kevin Klipstein, President & CEO of US Squash
Last month at the twentieth anniversary dinner for urban squash, I sat with the CEO of New York’s Department of Education Office of School Support Services. He calls his job “beans, buses and balls” since his areas are food services, pupil transportation and the public school athletic league. In his booming voice, he put me on the spot by asking, “Quick, what’s the name of the teacher who influenced you the most?” Not wanting to disappoint, I lamely tossed out the name of my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Corlew. She was a pretty nutty teacher and seemed to “get me.” Ms. Corlew at least encouraged my less serious self and tolerated my telling jokes in class all the time (I used to have a sense of humor). Friends I made in that class are people whom I feel I know the best, even today.
The reality is I could have said Bob Callahan. The first time I really thought about him was at the 1987 National Juniors at Princeton. Bob stood up at the mandatory all-player meeting, mid-day on Friday. There were about 250 kids (mostly boys) sitting in the massive bleachers in Jadwin Gym. There were very few coaches, and even fewer parents there—how we all got to Princeton I have no recollection. Bob’s messages were simple—if you lose your match, you ref the next one. Call your lets by saying “Let please.” If it’s at all close, then offer a stroke to your opponent. Don’t play double bounces. If you’re not sure, then call it “not up.” Wear your eye guards.
That was it. That was all we needed. The memory of Bob’s corduroy pants and massive mustache is seared in my mind.
I’ve been fortunate to have had great coaches in my life, starting with Carol and Fred Weymuller at the Genesee Valley Club in Rochester and Peter Briggs, who was my coach at Cornell when I was a freshman. But off the court, Bob was an inspiration. Once, at a squash reception in New York in January 2012, Bob and I spent a couple of hours talking about everything but squash. I had recently been added to the Callahan annual year-end newsletter which had simply amazed me. How could one family do so much in only one year? We then went over to the Tournament of Champions and, as luck would have it, I ended up in the last row of the high bleachers sitting next to Bob, his wife Kristen and two of their sons. We again talked about life, goals and family.
I vividly remember Bob reflecting on what the next chapter in his life may bring. He seemed excited to retire soon, or at least to scale back, and appeared wistful about the idea of not working the summers coaching tennis and, instead, perhaps traveling with Kristen.
During our meandering conversation, I was also really struck by how broadly and deeply Bob thought about his own life, how to spend the precious time we have, and I got the very strong sense that he was someone who lived every day fully; someone whose nature was to get the most out of life as he possibly could. This realization made the Callahan annual family newsletters make much more sense. I remember thinking Bob could be a really valuable mentor to me in living my own life. This, I realize only now with a chuckle, put me in good company with hundreds of others who played for Bob.
A little more than a month later, Bob’s team won the national championship, breaking Trinity’s unbelievable thirteen-year streak. Wow. A week after that, Bob was diagnosed with the same brain cancer that killed my father more than a decade earlier. Oh no.
Like my father, Bob embraced his illness. He pledged to do what was needed to be able to live as much as he could. He looked ahead, and continued to live as he had before. Bob led by example. He valued character, sportsmanship, integrity and good people. One needs to look no further than his incredible family for evidence of this.
When my father was diagnosed with and treated for a glioblastoma, I felt a profound sense of loss, but I also appreciated beyond words the last year I had with him. I had time to say things to my father that many do not before death. I am sure Kristen and the boys feel the same way. Bob was also appropriately recognized for all that he contributed to his community, which essentially is doing the same thing, though publicly with a plaque and a ceremony. Bob knew how much of a difference he made in people’s lives, and that matters.
The squash community is fortunate to have had Bob as such an integral part of it for so long. Bob’s presence in squash will be deeply missed. His legacy will live on in his children and grandchildren, the hundreds of people he coached and worked with, and the thousands of lives he influenced and impacted during his incredible life. The immeasurable impact Bob Callahan had on the world will reverberate for generations to come. Coaches matter more than we realize.
Callahan’s memorial service will be held on Saturday, Feb 7, 2015 at 1:30 PM in the Princeton University Chapel, with an on-campus reception to follow.