I LOST A GOOD FRIEND last week—a close colleague.
Robert V. Huber, retired Reader’s Digest Book editor.
He was there at the beginning, when I launched my freelance writing career in the mid-90s. He edited Bible background books, and he was one of the editors there in New York City who let me help write some of the Digest books.
When I visited the city many years ago, he took me out to eat. He had softshell crab and wore a bowtie. As we walked to the restaurant, I remember him sweet-talking that crab. He was eager to get a taste of it. The season for them had only recently started. I didn’t know they were seasonal until then.
I kept in touch with Bob after he retired. One day I called on him for help.
Lion Publishing in England had asked me to write a book about the history of the Bible—how we got it and the influence it has had on the world throughout history.
I couldn’t do it. My experience was with researching and writing about Bible times. Christian history was not my plug of ground. I emailed Bob and asked him if he wanted to co-author it with me.
He said yes.
When he thought he was dying
But he didn’t tell me he thought he was dying. He probably should have. But I’m glad he didn’t.
He was fighting tongue cancer.
Yet he wrote the best half of this book, The Bible: A History, which the Christian Broadcasting Council awarded the prize of Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year.
After we finished the book, Bob thanked me for saving his life.
That’s when he told me that he thought he was dying earlier, when I had emailed him about co-authoring the book. He said the work of writing the book gave him purpose and a reason to fight to stay alive.
That stunned me.
The very idea that I may have unknowingly helped keep him on the planet for what became almost another 20 years has become a wonderful and warm and cherished memory for me.
I had hoped to do it again.
I prayed for it.
Bob has been helping me paraphrase the Casual English Bible, as an editorial advisor. He has read every word of the Bible I have paraphrased so far: all the New Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and all the writings of Moses—up to Deuteronomy 6, when the sickness overpowered him in October.
He had been so looking forward to working with Deuteronomy, because he loved studying and teaching that book. He was a Roman Catholic and a Secular Franciscan who had master’s degrees in literature and in religious studies, along with post-master’s work in Scripture.
When I asked him to help me with the Casual English Bible he thanked me for treating him as though he still had value and could make a contribution to the world.
I was stunned again. How could he think he wasn’t valuable?
Does the comparative silence of retirement do that to good and gifted people?
What a waste if it does.
Bob contributed until he died. Valuable contributions. I wanted and needed his advice.
If others didn’t take advantage of what he still had to offer, it was their loss and it was my gain.
Bob took a turn for the worse early this fall. He was still dealing with the long-term effects of radiation treatment.
Late in August, Bob wrote me his final email before he got too sick to help anymore. At the time, I was questioning the work I did in paraphrasing the Bible book of Numbers.
He said, “I think the text reads very well. I don’t know why you felt doubtful. It reads smoothly and makes sense. My main findings were typos and agreements between subject and verb. I fully realize now why the book is named Numbers! Good job. Keep going.”
He often sent encouragement like that when he sent his corrections and suggestions for revision. It wasn’t fake encouragement. He meant it when he said it.
The last email
He wrote me last on October 8, after I wrote him, asking how he was doing:
“I have been through a rough patch, but I AM feeling better. Hope to get working again soon. Thanks.”
I sit here, now, stunned again.
I’ve lost Bob as a friend, an encourager, and a cherished mentor.
But for most of my career, I’ve had him as a friend, an encourager, and a cherished mentor.
So I grieve, but I am grateful for such a friend worth mourning.
Yet in this moment, I feel orphaned. And I find it odd.