In 2003, I was featured in a newsletter for an organization called El Hogar. I barely remember it. I do vividly remember someone coming to talk to the church about El Hogar and being captured by the stories. I like to act especially in times when it’s obvious help is needed. It seems I had this trait at an early age:
For a moment, let’s put aside the fact that I was that kid that was somewhat used by the church for propaganda of sorts aka “If this little 4th grader can do it, what’s stopping you?”. The only reason I’m sharing this is to explain how I first came into contact with Bob Bigelow, my first pen pal.
Cut to some time later after this newsletter was sent out and I received a note in the mail. “Bob Bigelow has donated in your name to El Hogar” with a little note attached explaining how he found out about me. Turns out he used to live in Winter Park where I grew up and felt connected to the story as a result. I had to write back. I remember typing up a letter knowing my handwriting was horrible and carefully sending it to whoever this Bob Bigelow fellow was.
Over the course of a couple of years, we wrote to each other back and forth. As I ended up actually going to Honduras 4 years in a row, I made sure to share my stories with him. I remember once typing up a 6 page letter about my life to send him only to hold back after it wouldn’t fit into an envelope and I was too embarrassed to ask my parents for help. When I started writing to him, he was in his 80s. Isn’t that wonderful? An incredibly kind and patient 80 something year old man was actually corresponding with a 10 year old.
My letters weren’t impressive – they were filled with random stories of my life, what I was learning in school, the drama on the soccer team, etc. He still wrote back. As my mom said:
“You would be so happy to hear from him and would send him a letter back telling him of your triumphs and woes. It was precious correspondence.”
At some point, we lost touch likely due to my teenage years being a bit overwhelming (as they are for most everyone). In 2009, I remember suddenly realizing the power of googling people my life crossed paths with. This power spurred a rampage of searches for random people which led me to somehow finding an email address for him. His health was deteriorating but we connected regardless. He told me about his son and sent me a copy of his son’s book.
5 years later, I was telling some friends about my first pen pal only to feel compelled to reach back out (as I always do). On 4/15/14, I sent this email to his son honestly assuming his father might have already passed:
By the time I found him again, Mr. Bigelow had Alzheimer’s. I spoke for about an hour on the phone with his son as we caught up about life over the last 5 years. It felt like a conversation between old friends despite the fact we had never spoken and the last time I wrote to his dad I was still a teenager.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve sent quick emails to his son to check in only to receive one this week with the news that my first pen pal died on March 23, 2017. From his obituary:
He received his A.B. (1950) and J.D. (1953) from Harvard University. He was a author, lawyer, mediator and arbitrator spanning a career of more than 50 years. From 1956-1966, he worked for John Hancock Life Insurance Company and for the next 40 years was of counsel and in private practice at Boston law firms and was partner in Bigelow & Saltzberg of Woburn, MA. In 1966, he became an arbitrator and mediator. He was an active member of and held several positions at the Massachusetts Bar Association from 1969-1985. He was a pioneer in the field of computer law and former president (1977-1979) of the Computer Law Society (now the International Technology Law Association). He also taught at Dartmouth College and Suffolk Law School.
Gah – I wish I could write you now and ask you all the questions about computer law. How did you get involved with it? What do you think of computers? What worries you about computer privacy and technology? Where do we need to tread carefully as humanity? Any book recommendations? I wish I had had the chance to sit in on a class you taught! Sigh. Thank you, Mr. Bigelow, for your precious correspondence. I loved your letters and I think in large part having such a kind person to write to solidified my love of letter writing today. Thank you for taking the time out of your life to make the day of an early teenager. Thank you for listening to my triumphs and woes. Your mark on my life remains.