Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Robert Rainey Rest in Peace

A tribute to my brother by Jim Rainey

Robert Rainey

April 19, 1958 - May 31, 2012

Robert was a shy boy and quiet through his high school years. He didn’t go out much for sports or extra curriculars. But when he got to Humboldt State up in the Redwood country, Robert was reborn.

The school was starting a crew team and Robert was one of the first to join. It turned out that inside this reserved, modest young man there was a beastly strong heart and a will to compete. Running and rowing with the Lumberjacks crew team began to transform Robert into the person he would become—powerful, hard-working, resilient and terribly loyal to the team.

Not long after college, he returned to Los Angeles. His athletic pursuits had turned him into something of a health nut, so it wasn’t surprising that he went into that field. He trained at UCLA to become a respiratory therapist and worked in that profession for a few years before going to chiropractic school.

When he was going to Cleveland Chiropractic College (near Downtown), he continued to live on the Westside. He stopped virtually every morning for breakfast at the Original Pantry, sitting at the counter and eating eggs while bantering with Romeo and the other workers.

He married Peg Regan in 1993 in her hometown of Scranton, PA. Margaret Regan Rainey is one of nine Regan children, a close-knit family that greatly expanded Robert’s world. That was both in the figurative and literal sense, since Robert now has 28 Regan nieces and nephews.

He opened his first practice on Motor Avenue in West L.A. before moving to his location on Venice Blvd., where he has been for about 15 years. Robert believed in chiropractic and alternative medicine. He wanted to see people healthy and always encouraged them to eat right and lose weight. He saw some patients who couldn’t afford to pay much, so he would take $5, or whatever they could spare.

Besides Peg, Robert’s three great loves were running, travel and his corgi dogs. The Raineys saved money for big trips every year or two. They were particularly enamored with Venice, Italy and had vacationed there several times, maybe throwing in a marathon or another distance run for good measure.

They also liked to travel in the Italian countryside and sample wine. Robert had become a bit of a connoisseur in recent years. He would bring a large, insulated storage container to Italy and return with it laden with new vintages. When he would share a bottle, he would always ask: “It’s pretty good, isn’t it?” His huge smile made it clear there only one answer was appropriate: Yes, the wine was fabulous.

Robert’s love of running expanded when he joined the L.A. Leggers running group. He made a lot of friends who he would keep for decades. Later, he joined the Mountain Goats, a group that runs on weekends in the Santa Monica Mountains and points beyond. Robert loves the Goats, as they called themselves, and the Goats loved him. His friends announced his death Thursday by saying “a member of our herd has been stolen from us.”

The Goats routinely run 10 or 15 miles or more. A few times a year some of the group meets at the Phidippides (later Fleet Feet) running store in Encino and runs over the hill to the Westside, where they feast at the Firehouse restaurant on Main Street in Santa Monica.

I once ran into my brother on the Venice boardwalk and said “How far have you gone?” Answer: “17 miles.” My kids gaped in amazement and Robert beamed. He had a really, really big smile.

Robert had just made that run with his friends this past Sunday. He was a bit stiff when he and Peg came to visit me and my family in South Pasadena on Memorial Day. I always joked with Robert what a great advertisement he made for chiropractic—limping around like an octagenarian after another mega-run. (One of the contradictions of Robert, the spinal health guru: He wanted others to stretch but would never bother to stretch himself.)

Robert was well known among ultra-distance runners, as well. He traveled around California with Peg for the endurance tests. He was something of an anomaly for a distance runner—at almost 6-2 and about 210 pounds he was built more like a free safety. Some of the runs included a “Clydesdale” Division for the rare specimen would could run hundreds of miles and still keep their weight over 200 pounds. Robert was a Clydesdale.

Robert kept the pounds on by eating every meal as if it was his last. On Thanksgiving, he would tear away what seemed like a quarter of the turkey, pile his plate high with mashed potatoes (he insisted on making the potatoes himself, because only he understood how to get the consistency just right) and then all the other fixings. Again, my kids would gape in awe. The mountain man had come from the wilds to live among us.

Robert liked to finish meals with copious helpings of pie and, especially, ice cream. His bowl would overflow and he would power through it. Somehow, in his somewhat cockeyed universe, ice cream was a noble vice, but he couldn’t understand how anyone would eat two or three cookies or some candy.

It was not uncommon for Robert to retire to the living room sofa after one of these eating bouts for a good, long nap…He really didn’t mind if you carried on the conversation over and around him.
He loved the outdoors, gave to the Wilderness Society and recycled everything. If you began to throw a bottle in the trash instead of the recycle bin, he would spring up to correct the error.

We take some solace in knowing that Robert did a lot of the things he wanted to do. He climbed Mt. Kilimajaro a few years ago. He went so fast that the guides marveled. One of them told him he completed one stretch of the climb faster than anyone else that season.

Robert planned to run the Mountain Goats season-ending event this weekend at Sycamore Canyon on the coast. Also on the calendar: the 16th Annual Holcomb Valley Trail Run on June 10 near Big Bear Lake. Peg was going to run the 15-mile version. Robert had signed up for the 33-miler. Given a choice of moderation, Robert would inevitably choose the alternative.

The world travelers had reservations to hike in the Dolomites in August and in December to travel to South Africa for an extended trip, returning home through Paris, where they planned to spend New Year’s Eve. There is a stack of seven travel books for that latter trip sitting on the coffee table as I write this at my brother’s house.

Our father, Ford Rainey, lived to two weeks shy of his 97th birthday. Robert told people he would live longer. At first he said he was shooting for 100. At some point he moved his target to 105. Recently, he recalibrated again: 110 didn’t seem unreasonable.

Robert would talk to every oddball door-to-door salesman who came by his office. He would give handouts to the homeless men who hung out in the neighborhood. Sometimes he would pay them for an odd job. Many of his friends agreed they wouldn’t have been so open to people so different from themselves.

Robert and Peg loved to talk to their dogs, Cade, Henry and Zoe. The Raineys felt they were in charge of their household, but eyewitnesses confirm that the corgi brigade ruled the Culver City roost.

Robert Rainey was a gentle man. He didn’t pick fights or look for trouble. He had a kind heart. When he watched his nieces and nephews singing in school plays or playing soccer he had that wonderful, broad smile. More than you can say of most men in their 50s, he was something of an innocent—wanting to believe the best about the world and the people who live in it.

He deserved a much better, more humane end. But the outpouring of so much good feeling from patients, running buddies, family and friends has made these first hours of our grief a bit more endurable. Peg and I and the rest of the family thank everyone so much for their support and love.

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