Robb’s Life Chapter 49 – Robb Dussliere’s Obituary on WHBF-TV April 20 1996

The day after Robb Dussliere passed away was a Saturday. I went to the station and began planning Robb’s obituary, which would make up most of the first segment of the news that evening.

I went to Robb’s parents’ home to interview his dad, Lorney. I called Beth Wehrman, the executive director of the AIDS Project Quad Cities, and asked her to come to the station for a live interview on the air.

Then I spent the afternoon editing an obituary feature that would maintain the characteristics of the series — no reporter voice.

This is the segment that was broadcast on WHBF-TV on Saturday, April 20, 1996, with Steve Smith anchoring.


You can donate to the DeLaCerda House and help support homeless people who have HIV and AIDS. It was Robb’s favorite charity during the final months of his life. If you can donate, please go to www.delacerdahouseinc.org and click on the “Donate” button at the top of the page.

Robb’s Life Chapter 45 – A Tribute to Lawrence “Lorney” Dussliere

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Lawrence (“Lorney”) Dussliere holding his son’s hand while Robb sleeps in the hospital.

Robb was dying in March and early April, 1996. Throughout the year we had been documenting Robb’s life, his parents had been by his side every step of the way.

You might think that this is no big deal. They are the parents. They should be supportive, right?

Unfortunately, many parents abandon their children when HIV and AIDS enter the picture. This is one of the reason Robb worked so hard on the DeLaCerda House during the final months of his life — to help support homeless people living with HIV and AIDS, people who were often homeless because they had lost jobs and had no one left who was willing to take them in.

Lorney and Hattie Dussliere demonstrated the best of human nature during a personal crisis; the protective qualities of parents who understand that love is unconditional.

Robb’s favorite performer was Elton John. As Robb approached death, I began looking for a way to pay tribute to his parents. I listened a lot to Elton John’s great album, “The One.” On that album is “The Last Song.” One day, as I was listening to the CD at home, the lyrics of “The Last Song” became very clear. It was about the love of a father for his AIDS-stricken son.

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A father in pain, still able to muster a smile, demonstrating incredible love and support to a son. 

This video instantly sprang into my mind, almost fully created. I sat down in my home and cried like a baby. I was doing that more and more over Robb, it seemed.

Even 20 years later, as this blog post is being written, parents still abandon their HIV-positive children. This tribute to Lorney Dussliere is still relevant.

After Robb passed away, Elton John came to perform a concert in the Quad Cities. Lorney and Hattie managed to get a VHS tape of “Robb’s Life” to him. During the concert, as they sat in the crowd, Elton John performed “The Last Song” and dedicated it to the Dussliere family.

I invite you to stop for a moment, listen to the lyrics, and you will understand why Robb’s parents have my undying respect and love.

If you would like to help keep Robb’s legacy alive, please donate — even a few dollars — to the DeLaCerda House. Go to their web page and click on the “Donate” button at the top of the screen.

Robb’s Life Chapter 35 – Feeling Worse but Still Focused on the Shelter

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Robb throws his hands in the air, frustrated that he just lost his lunch.

By February 7, 1996, Robb’s body was not tolerating the AIDS drugs he had started during the previous weeks. He was energetic while sitting on the couch, but weak when he engaged in activity.

More troubling was the fact that he was losing a lot of the food he was eating each day.

Despite feeling badly, Robb was still directing the renovation of the shelter for DeLaCerda House, which would provide transitional housing for homeless HIV and AIDS clients in the Quad Cities. Getting the shelter open was Robb’s main mission in life, along with staying alive.

I went over to his house to do our weekly story. Fortunately, his father Lorney was there, and while I was taping, John Brown stopped by.

This is one of the rare times that my voice was heard. When Robb was bending over the sink, I asked what happened. Then I answer when he asks what time it is.

Now that it is 20 years later, and I have had my own serious health issues, I know the feeling of frustration he displays when he throws his hands in the air. At this point, Robb’s body is rebelling, and there is nothing he can do about it.

Robb’s Life Chapter 32 -Ringing in 1996 by with a Little Sweat and a Lot of Spackle

Robb-Jan-96-71996 began with Robb with a little sweat and a little spackle, still working hard to get the house ready to open so homeless HIV and AIDS clients could have a place to stay. Within 5 months, the house would be named “Robb’s House” and would be owned and operated by the DeLaCerda House, a nonprofit organization.

We had been doing Robb’s Life stories since April, almost nine months. He had not expected to live to see 1996, but here he was, making the most of his time.

Robb-Jan-96-3I was disappointed when we shot this story right after the first of the year that he had celebrated his 34th birthday on New Year’s Eve and had not told me that his birthday was coming up. I’m not sure what bothered me the most — that I didn’t know his birthday (how could I have not asked this basic question?) or that he didn’t tell me about it. My holidays had been very busy, with a new relationship that would become a marriage in September of 1996, and with a trip to Lexington to visit friends and family. But for 20 years, I have regretted not being at Robb’s 34th birthday party with my camcorder.

I would not have another chance.

In this episode, Robb also shows the permanent IV that was put into his chest for more effective medicine delivery. At this point, every day was a gift.

You can still donate to the DeLaCerda House and help keep Robb’s legacy alive. Go to www.delacerdahouseinc.org and click on the “Donate” button on the right side of the screen.

 

Robb’s Life Chapter 31 – A Special Delivery for Christmas

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“This (photo) is what I’m sending for Christmas presents,” Robb jokes.

Just in time for Christmas in 1995, a major item was checked off Robb’s To-Do-List. The headstone that he and his parents designed was delivered by Moline Monument to St. Mary’s Cemetery in East Moline.

You may remember that in May, Robb and his parents — Lorney and Hattie — chose their grave site during a tour of the cemetery. Now, the project was complete!

It isn’t easy for three people to decide on the design of a headstone, which will identify them for perhaps hundreds of years, or until the stone is worn down by time. This story shows the final steps in the design process, then Robb, Lorney and Hattie are at the cemetery as the headstone is delivered and installed.

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Robb, Lorney, and Hattie watch as the headstone is installed.

None of us knew, of course, that Robb only had four months to live. He may have suspected this would be his last Christmas, but he had suspected it the previous year, too. And he had recently signed up for a new drug trial, so anything could happen.

I think back to this time, and I don’t believe I gave him a Christmas gift that year. Perhaps I was still trying to keep a bit of professional distance, being a reporter, but I regret it now. If I could do it again, I would have made a big deal of it. Once someone is gone, however, there are no do-overs. Insert deep sigh here.

For 20 years, I have cracked up over Robb’s joke at the end of this story, and how Lorney reacts to it. Even in the middle of a profound, potentially depressing event, Robb could lighten the mood.

Robb’s Life Chapter 28 – Hanging Drywall and Robb’s Final Thanksgiving

Robb at Thanksgiving, 1995.

Robb at Thanksgiving, 1995.

Twenty years ago this week, Robb was racing to renovate the abandoned house in Rock Island into a shelter for homeless HIV and AIDS clients. Along with his father, Lorney, and a friend, Ray Williams, Robb was hanging drywall and doing other work to make the old house inhabitable.

This would be Robb’s final Thanksgiving, and he was amazed that he was still alive and feeling well enough to hang drywall.

I remember shooting this piece very clearly, and when I was editing, I noticed there was a look in Robb’s eyes that had not been there a few months earlier. It was the look of someone who is sick, whose body is struggling. But when he smiled, his eyes sparkled as they always did. It was clear that he was not smiling as often these days.

Renovating the interior of what would be known as "Robb's House."

Renovating the interior of what would be known as “Robb’s House.” Ray Williams is on the left. 

But Robb was focused intensely on providing shelter for homeless HIV and AIDS clients — people who were less fortunate than he — so he was pouring his limited energy into the DeLaCerda House. Twenty years later, his work is still doing a lot of good in our community.

After all these years, you can still help, and that is the reason that we are honoring Robb’s memory during this 20th anniversary year of Robb’s Life. Please help keep Robb’s legacy alive by donating, even just a few dollars, to the DeLaCerda House. Just go to their website at www.delacerdahouseinc.org and click on the “Donate” button on the right side of the page.

And don’t miss WHBF-TV’s special news series this week updating Robb’s Life 20 years later. Watch WHBF Local 4 News at 10:00 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, November 23, 24 and 25.

Robb’s Life Chapter 10 – Choosing a Grave Site

Robb Cemetery3The first time I had a chance to talk very much with Robb’s parents was the day he went with them to select a grave site at St. Mary’s in East Moline.

This is one of my favorite pieces in the series. The tone and structure of the stories began coming together in this one. Real life is made up of serious moments that are sometimes punctuated with humor, and humor can quickly give way to sadness. Robb was a very funny, mischevious guy, but just below the surface, the people around him are beginning to feel the heartbreak of what is coming in the not-so-distant future. I felt that this story brought these different emotions together, and it became a template for the stories to come.

Also, by the time we shot this story, near the end of May, 1995, Robb and I were more at ease around each other.

I had met Lorney (Lawrence) and Hattie Dussliere a few weeks earlier at Robb’s house, but we didn’t talk much that day. Now, as we toured the cemetery, I had a chance to interview them for the first time. They are wonderful people.


 
Please donate to the DeLaCerda House and keep Robb’s mission alive, helping HIV and AIDS patients who find themselves homeless. Follow this link and click on the Donate button on the right side of the page.