Everyone Needs an Uncle Bob

Janet Stiegler, Contributing Writer


Editor-Cape Fear Voices (Jan Morgan-Swegle)

Recently, our extended family gathered in Quincy, Massachusetts to celebrate my husband’s oldest brother’s 80th birthday. Robert Stiegler—or Uncle Bob as he is known to our children and numerous other nieces and nephews—is the Stiegler family patriarch. For 80 years, he has shared his love and generosity with generations of extended family.


I should mention that Bob has been married almost sixty years to his better half, Rita and that we know them more as BobandRita (yes, without spaces, because you can’t have one without the other). But since it was his birthday, I will focus on Bob, the retired telephone lineman, army veteran, church treasurer, boat enthusiast, and all-around amazing brother, husband, and uncle.  


Everyone needs an Uncle Bob. Here’s why:

  • Holidays at BobandRita’s have always been full of unlimited food, beverage, and laughter. Their small Cape Cod-style home—decorated to the nines—magically expands to accommodate a never-ending number of friends and family. When the kids were younger, holidays also included fun and games. The Fourth of July meant three-legged races, prizes, and fireworks; on Easter, there were egg hunts, egg tosses, and a visit by a life-size Easter bunny. Several times, Bob assumed the role of Santa Claus at the local Catholic church, but he was sometimes outed by a niece or nephew who smelled his Old Spice aftershave or, on one occasion, caught him at home taking off his long, white beard!   


  • Bob’s driving tours in and around Boston were full of historical and humorous details from his having pulled miles of telephone lines throughout most of the city’s buildings. Once, for a lunch break, he took us to Cheers (where the hit TV show was filmed.)  Because the staff was busy, the head waiter wanted to seat our group in a separate section that was bland and unrecognizable from the show. After engaging in some negotiation, Bob secured a table closer to the bar. We don’t know what he said or did, but that was Uncle Bob, taking care and taking charge.  

  • BobandRita often packed four or five nieces and nephews—including our two offspring—into their red van for a weeklong summer road trip. Destinations included Niagara Falls, Lake George, the Poconos, Disney World, Busch Gardens, or Kings Dominion. At the theme parks, Bob would ride the roller coasters and water slides with the kids or serve as a human shield for those venturing through the haunted house. Spoiled rotten, our two children would regale us with tales of their adventures (or misadventures) for the next week.  


  • Once, Uncle Bob took my daughter, Leah, on a Boston adventure when she wasn’t even physically present. In third grade, her class was assigned the “Flat Stanley Project.” Flat Stanley comes from a children’s book about a young boy named Stanley who gets flattened by a bulletin board. His parents mail him to his family around the country so that he can go on adventures. Leah drew a flat version of herself in class and sent it to Bob, asking him to take her to a local landmark in Boston. The idea was that he would take one picture of the destination and mail it back. Bob being Bob, he overachieved and took “Flat Leah ” to John Quincy Adams’ birthplace, the JFK Library, Faneuil Hall, the USS Constitution, Bunker Hill, the Boston Public Gardens, and the site of the Boston Tea Party, among other key landmarks. Leah got back a whole loose-leaf notebook of “Flat Leah” adventures!  


Maybe you have an “Uncle Bob” in your life. If so, you’re lucky! But how do you recognize a man like that? Well, when BobandRita went on vacation alone, they often escaped to Hawaii—exactly 15 times! Since he can no longer travel to the islands, we brought a little of Hawaii to him on his birthday. Two hula dancers performed in his yard, and his brother-in-law had live Hawaiian leis flown in from the islands.   It was the least we could do for a man who has always spread the “aloha” (love and fellowship)!