For most people, spending their retirement years volunteering at a food bank for the less fortunate might be the most magnanimous gesture they could imagine. But that is just a side note for Bob O’Bill. Both he and his wife, Joyce, volunteered their time to help operate the Butte Emergency Food Bank.
Bob O’Bill, a humble electrician, did something bigger. Much bigger. When you drive into Butte, Montana from any direction you will see what he did. High within the stony mountains of the Continental Divide, towering over the city on the east side, stands Our Lady of the Rockies with her arms outstretched.
Our Lady is pure white and made of iron. She stands 90 feet tall atop a rocky ridge over 8,000 feet above sea level.
Back in the late 1970’s, Bob’s wife was battling cancer. Bob prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary for her recovery. He promised to build a small statue of the Virgin Mary in his yard if his wife recovered. Upon his wife’s recovery, Bob O’Bill went to work. Soft-spoken and inordinately driven, he shared his vision and began to motivate the citizens of Butte.
Work on the Our Lady project began in December of 1979 and did not stop until the Army National Guard used a giant air-crane helicopter to lift sections of the statue into place in December of 1985. Most of the materials and all of the work was donated by the townspeople of Butte.
I had the pleasure of talking with Bob O’Bill on a couple of occasions. I met him at the food bank in Butte. We mostly talked about electricity. Frankly, we talked about people getting knocked on their ass by the stuff.
He had stories, Bob O’Bill. But never a bad word.
Bob died last Sunday. That big heart of his finally did too much and failed.
His friend, Bob Griffith, probably summed Bob O’Bill’s life the best: “There were givers and takers—and he was a giver.”