Robert Darwin Langenkamp
Robert Darwin (Bob) Langenkamp died on 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. Their first house was a 200-square-foot cottage on West Smuggler they 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 by anyone who looked hard enough. It would be home for the rest of their lives.
Bob was a naturalist. He knew 200 bird calls, and he turned his back yard into a bird sanctuary with stone bird baths and bird feeders along his homemade wooden fence and hanging beneath the eaves of his roof.
He was an athlete. Bob was a champion backstroker whose record time at Oklahoma State University held for decades. Although he qualified for the Olympic tryouts in 1932, he 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 he was a writer. 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, he wrote a story called “Greetings Little Sir” and it was his first published piece. He was paid $50. He later published a small book, a witty overview of the oil industry from the eyes of a prehistoric beast.
Bob knew the pen was mightier than the sword. His 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 Oil’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.
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 their 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 loved to travel and Bob “loved to go with her,” to places all over the world. Their most memorable trip was a three-month journey as passengers on a freighter. Their main provisions: a case of books and a case of mixed libations: vodka and scotch.
As the years passed Bob and Mimi’s place became a nexus of gatherings for many friends, parties, family gatherings, picnics and discussions about life, love, travel, politics and art. Bob liked to be surrounded by 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 is survived by his son, Robert Dobie Langenkamp of Tulsa; Susan Belle (Susie), of Charlottesville, Va.; his brothers Quinn Langenkamp, of New Jersey, and Arthur Langenkamp, of Tulsa, Okla., 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, Heather Anderson, Hilary Stunda-Richie, Matthew Langenkamp, Dan Langenkamp, and Lucinda Langenkamp.
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that people send contributions to the Robert Langenkamp Naturalist Fund at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.
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