Obituary: Robert Darwin Langenkamp
Robert Darwin (Bob) Langenkamp died Sunday, Nov. 23, in his hometown of Tulsa, Okla. He was 90.
Born Aug. 19, 1913, the eldest of eight children, Bob helped run the family’s 10-acre farm. At the age of 12, he milked the cows, tended the horses, became a competent trick-rider and learned to drive a Model T Ford on the adjacent pastures. Beyond that, he grew up observing birds and learning to be a lifelong naturalist.
He and his wife, Mary Belle (Mimi), started coming to Aspen in 1961 at the encouragement of Bob’s youngest brother Arthur, who opened a colorful restaurant in an old house on Main Street with the eponymous name of Arthur’s.
In 1974 they moved permanently to Aspen from Pittsburgh, Pa. Their first house was a 200-square-foot cottage on West Smuggler nicknamed “The Mexican Jail.” It cost them $5,000. Later they found a nice corner plot in the West End by the Music Tent where horses grazed in the field behind their house and arrowheads could be found if you looked hard enough. It would be home for the rest of their lives.
Bob was a renaissance man. He was a naturalist who knew 200 birdcalls, and who turned his back yard into a bird sanctuary with stone birdbaths and bird feeders.
He was an athlete. Bob was a champion backstroker who qualified for the Olympic tryouts in 1932, but missed them because he couldn’t hitch a ride to St. Louis. At his 60th birthday party, he impressed his grandchildren by walking the length of his back yard on his hands.
He was a craftsman. He could build an addition to a house and wire it without a second thought, and could saw a straight line across a flat board at the age of 85 with the agility and nimbleness of a 40-year-old.
He was a wordsmith and a writer. “The phrase ‘Lady wrestler,'” he once said, “is an oxymoron, you know.”
Bob began his literary pursuits in his early 30s when he wrote several stories for a magazine. An homage to the birth of his first child, the story was called “Greetings Little Sir.” It was his first published piece. He was paid $50. He later published a small book, a witty overview of the oil industry through the eyes of a prehistoric beast.
Bob’s love of words and writing got him “away from the shovel to behind the desk.” His rise on the corporate ladder started on the bottom rung. He worked along the pipeline, where he became a bit like Cyrano de Bergerac, writing letters home and love poems to faraway sweethearts for his illiterate co-workers. He then became speech writer and ultimately editor of Gulf’s monthly publication, the Orange Disc.
Mimi convinced him to create a glossary of oil terminology, which became the tomes “Oil Business Fundamentals,” “Handbook of Oil Industry Terms and Phrases,” and “The Illustrated Petroleum Reference Dictionary.” The latter two books are still in print after five editions and 30 years. They are used throughout the world as key reference books for the oil industry.
But his masterpiece was his tribute to his wife after she passed away in 1988. “An Odyssey of Larks, the Story of a Love,” is a four-volume series that tells of the rare, exceptional love between him and his wife, Mimi, which began when he was 12 years old, she was 10 and they lived on neighboring farms in Oklahoma.
Mimi was the love of his life. Together they raised and sent to college Mimi’s younger brother, David, after Mimi and her siblings were orphaned by the untimely deaths of her parents. They raised three remarkable children, lost their eldest daughter in a car accident, and saw their six grandchildren every summer for decades in Aspen. Mimi and Bob loved to travel all over the world. Their most memorable trip was a three-month journey on a freighter. Their main provisions: a case of books and a case of vodka and scotch.
As the years passed, Bob and Mimi’s place became a nexus of parties, family gatherings, picnics and discussions about life, love, travel, politics and art. Bob liked lively discussion and pretty women. He was lucky to have both up until the end.
As the post-it notes around his kitchen said, “Entropy Never Sleeps!” and “Fight Entropy!” Bob fought it well in his last years, always dressed in his signature cravat, worn leather vest and blue jeans, with his plaid cap ready to come off and held against his breast at the first sign of a lady at Clark’s Market.
We will all miss Bob’s wit, whimsy and great gentleness.
Bob is preceded in death by his daughter Elizabeth (Bishy) and his wife, Mary Belle (Mimi). He his survived by his son, Robert Dobie Langenkamp of Tulsa, Okla.; his daughter, Susan Belle (Susie) of Charlottesville, Va.; his two brothers, Quinn Langenkamp of New Jersey and Arthur Langenkamp of Tulsa, who cared for him in his last days; and his sister, Martha Hazel Roeyer of Arkansas. He is also survived by his grandchildren: David Stunda of Boca Raton, Fla.; Heather Anderson of Malibu, Calif.; Hilary Stunda-Richie of Aspen; Matthew Langenkamp of Hong Kong; Dan Langenkamp of Washington, D.C.; and Lucinda Langenkamp of Boston. He will be missed by all his great-grandchildren as well: Isabelle and Atticus, Sienna and Chloe, Sam, Max and Alexandra.
In lieu of flowers, please send contributions to Aspen Center for Environmental Studies to the Robert Langenkamp Naturalist Fund.
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