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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Steve Christilaw: Spokane Valley will miss dentist Morrow

For the longest time, I measured a place by what it had.

Seattle? It had the Mariners and the Seahawks, Pike Place Market and great bookstores where you could lose yourself for hours. It also had the Huskies, but I never held that against the city, per se. And for good or ill, it gave the world Starbucks, Boeing and Microsoft.

Maui? Beautiful beaches. Trees full of coconuts, mangoes and papaya, pineapples and gardens that produced fresh tomatoes and onions the year-round. Beaches. There’s lush greenery and air scented with plumeria and sunscreen. And beaches. Did I mention beaches?

One of the things that comes to us with age is a new perspective. I’m not sure when it changed, but I suddenly found that my measurement of a place began to have more to do with who a place had much more than what it offered.

Seattle suddenly became the place where some of my best friends live, where I have nieces I love and family that makes spending time there feel precious. A double tall caramel macchiato doesn’t even come close to that.

Hawaii still has the beaches, but it also is a place where I have good friends and great memories that I share with friends and family.

Last month the Spokane Valley lost one of the people who made it such a special and treasured place to live and raise a family.

If you were a kid growing up in Spokane Valley, there’s a good chance you had Dr. Robert Morrow as your dentist. He specialized in helping children find their smile.

I was luckier than most. He was my cousin.

Bob’s mother and my maternal grandmother were sisters who grew up in the northeastern corner of Iowa. In fact, both he and my mother were born in Spencer, Iowa.

Aside from my family, the most famous resident of Spencer, the Clay County seat, was the library cat, Dewey Readmore Books, made famous by the children’s book, “Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World.”

We always looked forward to the times we got to visit with our Aunt Esther, and even as a kid I marveled at just how much her son, Bob, looked like her and shared her gentle, sweet nature. The family resemblance carries over to my mother – who greatly favors her aunt as well.

Those visits generally prompted a family get-together at which I enjoyed listening to Bob tell stories. I enjoyed spending time with the cousins – Bob’s wife, Bonnie, and their three kids, Janie, John and Polly.

I especially enjoyed visiting with Janie, who had a congenital heart condition that kept her from running and playing. Instead, she and I would sit and talk about all kinds of subjects and lose track of time in the process. She passed away much too soon and I miss her very much.

When my family moved to Spokane from Ephrata in 1972, I joined the debate team at West Valley High and, at my first tournament, I walked into a room at Eastern Washington University to take on a team from St. George’s. On the other side was my cousin, John.

Bob was always active and I learned later that he had tried to both be a student in the dentistry program and walk-on with the University of Iowa basketball team. Knowing him, he would have made it work but his adviser urged him to give up hoops because he had a much better future as a dentist.

And he did.

In 1954 Bob joined the dental practice of Dr. Jack Fowler in Millwood, and later opened his own practice in Opportunity, specializing in children’s dentistry.

Always an athlete, Bob’s after-work passion was playing tennis, and his longtime doubles partner was Bill Cowles, the late publisher of The Spokesman-Review.

I still remember telling Bob that I had begun writing for this newspaper. It wasn’t long after that Mr. Cowles dropped by the sports department on a Saturday afternoon, most likely after a rousing game of doubles, and made it a point to say hello to me and ask how things were going – all to the amazement of my boss and the rest of the full-time employees.

I never did tell them exactly how he knew me. It was just the kind of thing that Cousin Bob would do, and the fact that Mr. Cowles always checked in on me when he passed through the office and told me how much he valued the friendship.

There are stories about the time Bob walked into the middle of a bank robbery across the street from his office and his layover in Manila that happened to fall on the night of a military coup.

If that had been the sum total of what my cousin was to the community, it would have been a marvelous and full life.

But he was much more than that.

A long-time member and past president of the local Rotary Club No. 21, Bob and Bonnie spent 15 years after he retired in 1988 traveling the world, providing free dental care to kids around the world.

About 15 years ago Bob was diagnosed with symptoms of dementia, and he faced it the same way he faced life, with a positive attitude, a pleasant smile and a gentle nature. He passed away peacefully April 13. I can’t help but hope that he had a rousing reunion with his daughter.

Always wearing a smile and ready with a kind word, Bob Morrow was one of the people who helped make the Spokane Valley such a great place to grow up and a great place to raise a family.

My cousin, Bob, was a role model for me. I treasured his advice whenever he chose to offer it, and his encouragement was more than appreciated.

Losing him leaves a void in the world. I will do my best to follow his example and try hard to make the world a better place.

Just the way he did.