Bob once bought me a pint.
I first met Bob McKee in person some years ago at a CILIP Umbrella conference in Manchester. He was a very much larger than life character, brimming with confidence and enthusiasm for all things library related. Prior to this he’d still been a large figure in the professional library pantheon, but like all those pictures of the great and good who’d appear in Update, you couldn’t quite get a handle on him until you met him.
Over the years he’s been a seemingly ever-present figure in the library professional world, and while I might not have agreed with everything he said (his views on social networking for one) I had to admire the way he said it. Forthright, honest, decent.
When he announced he was retiring earlier this year, I was a little heartened in part because a change at the top was going to be good for CILIP; an organisation at times that can be a little to slow to move with the times. But I was also pleased that so prominent a figure was going to take a back seat from the hectic day-to-day running of the organisation, which would doubtless give us all a chance to hear more of his insight unfettered by the shackles of corporate responsibility. Again I didn’t expect to agree with it all, but by damn I looked forward to reading it and cheering/railing against it with gusto. I’m always someone who loves a challenge!
I wasn’t quite sure when he was leaving CILIP this year (it was to be October), but I was already looking forward to hearing the countless tails of his exploits and experiences from all who knew him in glowing tribute as he stepped down.
And then today I read that he had passed away at the far too a young age of 60 while attending the IFLA conference in Sweden, just months from retirement. His untimely death has robbed the library profession of one of its most outspoken and influential advocates, just at the point of which he would move into the role of national treasure and sage. It’s shocking, it’s unexpected, and frankly right now it feels damned unfair.
Finer writers and those who knew him better will pay better tributes in the days to come in more fulsome detail I have no doubt. So, in memory of that pint two thirds of a decade ago, what I’ll do for now if raising a glass to Bob tonight in tribute.