During the past 24 hours much has been said – and written – about Bob Sokoll’s impact during his 24-year tenure as Waxahachie City Manager.
Through the day Thursday my inbox was filled with notes expressing sorrow over Bob’s passing Wednesday afternoon, following by wonderful expressions of praise for his dedication and kindness.
Like everyone else, I am deeply saddened at the loss of a friend.
Bob was certainly a friend to so many people.
During his last decade as city manager, I was fortunate to spend a lot of time with Bob. In his folksy, easy-going manner, he would have been the first to point out there were few days when he wished I could have found something else to write about.
“Dag-gummit, Neal. Why don’t you write about the county for a while? I’ve been on the front page enough. I think you should spread it out and let some of the other officials be in the spotlight,” he once quipped to me when I was covering an ongoing issue with the city.
I will miss his humor.
I will also miss his honesty.
Even when I was writing stories that he probably preferred we didn’t write about, I could always count on Bob to be straight-forward and honest.
There are many things I came to admire about Bob.
One of the traits I came to admire about Bob was his brilliance.
He was absolutely brilliant.
He also proved the adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover.
I will never forget the first time I met Bob.
I had actually gone down to the police station to meet Chief Alwin Barrow. It just so happened that Bob was visiting with the chief when I walked in the door. As everyone knows, Bob spoke in a very distinct West Texas colloquial accent and when he got excited, not only did his consonants and vowels run together, but so did his words to the point where you can only understand about every third or fourth word. My first impression was that I had moved to the animated TV series “King of the Hill” and Boomhower was in charge of the city.
Despite his laid back, easy-going demeanor, Bob was one of the most brilliant men I’ve ever met.
I remember a conversation with him back in the late 1990s when he was pushing the need for the city to secure water rights.
A lot of people, myself included, were scratching our heads wondering why we needed so much water when it seemed at the time we had plenty.
Bob looked at water like tycoons look at oil.
I don’t know if it was because of his West Texas roots, growing up where water was scarce or if his crystal ball was that much better than everyone else’s.
But he knew the value of the water and the need to ensure our community had a steady supply for decades to come.
Somehow, he knew the day was coming when water in Texas would be more valuable than the oil and gas beneath the ground.
He convinced the city council to secure water rights with multiple sources, and in the process, ensure the city of Waxahachie will have all the water it needs to prosper and continue growing for at least the next generation.
In the past few years, during a period of record droughts resulting in many Texas cities struggling to provide water for basic needs, let alone industry, Bob’s vision (and work) has put Waxahachie in an enviable position.
I believe that vision will become even more important in the years to come as our state’s water resources become even more limited.
His dedication and passion for this community was absolutely inspiring.
I also had the opportunity to serve with Bob on a number of volunteer boards working to improve the community.
One of the things that always struck me about Bob was that unlike a lot of politicians and appointed officials, he never volunteered for community work out of political reasons. He genuinely enjoyed serving others.
One Christmas, he and I volunteered to ring bells for the Salvation Army in front of Walmart. It was raining, the wind was howling and it was so cold it just bit to the bone.
Bob was a ray of sunshine. He was genuinely joyous, going out of his way to greet and converse with everyone walking in and out, talking to the kids, asking each one what they wanted Santa to bring them for Christmas. He was glowing. He loved it. He absolutely loved the chance to just visit with people, make a connection and try and brighten their day.
There was another year when Bob roped me into helping out with a Boys & Girls Club fundraiser.
When he called, I told him I’d be happy to help out, no problem.
I should have asked questions.
The next thing I know I’m participating in a benefit wrestling match. Even worse, I was wrestling Dr. Ben Skelton, who happens to stand about six-feet, 20-inches tall — and that’s not much of an exaggeration.
But to top it all off, as we were waiting to be introduced to a crowd of several hundred anxious wrestling fans, Bob walks into the dressing room to wish me luck, adding, “Hey Neal, try not to break a leg.”
“Bob,” I shouted, as he was heading out the door. “How come you’re not getting in the ring with us?”
“I volunteered for the hard job,” he said.
“Doing what?” I asked, and I admit, my tone was a little bit indignant.
“I’m running the popcorn booth,” he said, actually winking at me as he said it.
“How is that the hard job?” I asked, glancing across the room at Dr. Skelton who was practicing his Hulk Hogan muscle poses.
“Well,” Bob said his West Texas accent. “We’re both doing something good for the kids. You’re getting ready to go in the ring and wrestle Dr. Hulk over there, and I’m selling popcorn at the door.”
“Yeah, but how is that harder?” I asked, my voice rising a few octaves as Dr. Skelton pointed at me and then in a serious of movements demonstrated how he was going to crack my back in the ring.
“It’s like this,” Bob said. “I figured out how to sell popcorn. You didn’t. Obviously, it’s a harder job than you thought.”
I will miss his humor.
And I will miss his passion for being involved and helping others.
Even in retirement, Bob remained active, serving on numerous nonprofit boards and staying active in his church.
Even though his battle against cancer took a lot out of him, Bob didn’t let it show, and for the most part, he didn’t let the cancer slow him down.
Like everyone else who knew him, I will miss him.
I will always consider Bob Sokoll one of the most influential people I’ve ever met.
He not only made a difference, current and future residents of Waxahachie owe a debt of gratitude for his visionary position on water.
Neal White is the Editor of Waxahachie Newspapers Inc. Contact Neal at email@example.com or 469-517-1457.