Oct. 6, 1933 - March 29, 2014
Rio del Mar
Robert Gerald Neasham passed away Saturday night at his treasured beachfront home, in the company of his beloved wife and grandson. He was 80 years old. His death was due to complications from cancer, and was not unexpected. While saddened by his diagnosis, Bob was at peace with his fate, and chose to spend his last days at home, enjoying visits from family and friends, and soaking up the ocean views.
Bob was born October 6, 1933 to Ernestine and Robert Neasham, of Manteca, California. Bob was young when his father died, and his childhood was not an easy one, but he spent many happy summers with his cousin, Don, in Modoc County. Bob was a hard worker who made his own way from an early age. Bob graduated from Richmond High School, and attended college for a few years. But he left college early to join the Marines and start a family. After his service was complete, he trained as a bricklayer and went on to become a masonry contractor and then a general contractor. He worked throughout the South Bay and East Bay area. He also taught masonry at night school for many years.
No job was just a day's work for Bob. He always searched for a way to make every job beautiful, interesting, and unique. He delighted in finding creative solutions for projects that supposedly "could not be done," and won a national award for his bricklaying skills. He was incredibly proud, decades later, when his grandson Jacob won the same prize.
A contractor by day, Bob worked the night shift playing trumpet in club bands throughout the Bay Area. Bob loved all kinds of music: Latin jazz, classical, blues. But his favorite was big band jazz, and his hero was bandleader Harry James. Bob played trumpet in school, and when he joined the Marines as a teenager he was sent to Japan in a Marine Corps Band, along with jazz saxophonist Oliver Nelson.
Bob once played in Bobby Darin's band during a weeklong Bay Area gig, and he also played regularly with Connie Caudillo, a well-known Bay Area bandleader who specialized in Latin jazz. Bob passed his love of music along to his children, and the rule in the Neasham house was homework first, followed by practice on the piano.
Bob's creative spark caught fire in many other mediums, from woodcarving and painting, to elaborate, one-of-a-kind custom carpentry. The boat-shaped house overlooking Rio del Mar beach was his handiwork. His workshop was packed with tools and projects, and his hands were never idle until the last few years of his life, when the wear and tear of hard physical labor caught up with him.
Bob married Agnes Georges in 1953 and they had three children: Robin, Mitzi, and Darin. The marriage ended amicably in 1976.
After several years of bachelorhood, Bob met Vivian Brereton, owner of the Pixie Plaza Deli in Rio del Mar, and the two married on Valentines Day in 1983.
Bob and Viv bought their beachfront home on Rio del Mar's Beach Drive "island" in 1985, and made many fast friends from the scores of families that vacation regularly at the beach. Bob loved nothing more than inviting friends in for drinks, dinner, a view of the sunset, and a few tunes on the trumpet or his baby grand piano. The convivial atmosphere sometimes drew in strangers who mistook the Neasham house for a pub, some of them stayed for a drink even after discovering their mistake.
One year a delegation from Alushta, Russia, Santa Cruz's Sister City, was invited to celebrate the 4th of July at the beach house. Bob greeted the visiting Russians with a lavish barbeque feast and liters of Stolichnaya vodka, after which the guests crowded the balcony to watch a mob of revelers shooting off thousands of illegal fireworks. It was a spectacle our Russian friends likely never forgot, and neither did Bob.
Bob was a voracious reader of newspapers, magazines and scores of books on history, politics and science. He followed current events with keen interest and critical thought, and remained a proud liberal to the end. Bob was also a loving Dad and Grandpa, who took enormous pleasure in the accomplishments of the young people in his life.
Bob is survived by his wife, Vivian Neasham, and his children, Robin Sanborn (Rocky), Mitzi Buchanan (Chris), and Darin Neasham, as well as grandchildren Kayla Buchanan, Jacob and Jesse Amos. He is also survived by his extensive blended family, George Brereton (Trisha), Carol Bower (Terry), Richard Brereton (Dee), Brad Brereton (Maria), and Robert Brereton, in addition to grandchildren Chad and Kendall Bower, Scott and Gina Brereton, and Carmen Brereton. Bob is also survived by his ex-wife Agnes Neasham.
A small family service will take place at a future date.
Published in Santa Cruz Sentinel on Apr. 6, 2014