Friday, January 26, 2024

Robert Walter 'Wally' Costa: 1956-2023

Posted By on Fri, Jan 26, 2024 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge Robert Walter "Wally" Costa, Sept. 4, 1956, to July 26, 2023.
  • Robert Walter "Wally" Costa, Sept. 4, 1956, to July 26, 2023.

A most wonderful man has died. Robert Walter "Wally" Costa was born Sept. 4, 1956, and died July 26, 2023, at the age of 66.

Wally was raised in Eureka, graduated from Eureka High School in 1974, then began his life's career in the timber industry. Employed by several private companies, the work was hard and often dangerous — setting chokers, heavy chains slung over his shoulder, up and down steep terrain. He loved hard work and never complained.

Wally was employed by Louisiana-Pacific and later Schmidbauer Lumber, working at Schmidbauer for 37 years. Well-respected for his tough work ethic, Wally developed great friendships. Many of his co-workers have offered condolences and shared colorful stories about this man they admired — always respectful, kind and friendly, quick-witted and clever. He loved Schmidbauer and retired June 2, 2023. He lived 54 days after retirement.

Early in January of 2023 Wally began exhibiting subtle physical changes. A proud and quiet man, he kept things to himself. Finally, he mentioned weakness in his hands and legs and was misdiagnosed locally with "tremors," given a prescription and advised to "come back in six months." In six months he was dead. Immediately after the misdiagnosis and without a phone call or appointment, I drove Wally straight to University of California at San Francisco emergency. Two days later he was diagnosed with ALS — Lou Gehrig's disease.

Ironically, all his life he was a specimen of great health and athleticism. From the age of 6 he played football, basketball and baseball. In his 30s and 40s he excelled on many local softball teams. It was exhilarating to watch him on the field — powerful, tough, yet so graceful. A natural, many thought he looked like a pro.

Wally was a great storyteller. An intelligent and sensitive man, he sure had a way with words. He could look at an event, an issue, a moment, then mull over the particulars providing his own distinct commentary. One evening, dinner included braised chicken, jasmine rice and fresh steamed green beans. He sat quietly at the dinner table. I asked how he liked dinner and he said the beans were undercooked. I explained the health benefits of cooking vegetables "al dente." He was familiar with the phrase, and with gears turning he retorted, "The next time I want my teeth dented, I'll let you know."

After dinners and on weekends, Wally retreated to the garage, his man-cave. No ordinary garage, it was quite like a living room, carpeted, filled with antique furniture, two recliners and a flat screen TV. He spent a lot of time there, often with friends, talking and watching sporting events. He would fire up the heater, turn on the tube, and "Wally's Place" would come alive. Our 100-pound Airedale, Higgins, would jump up and spread out over Wally's legs and the cat, Carson, would tuck himself on one side of the chair, cuddled next to Wally.

The garage was cozy and warm, the walls covered with great posters of the surfing Reef girls, Mr. T. with his 40 pounds of gold chains and blown-up photos of Wally's beloved pets. And on the wall hung a framed 3 X 4 foot caricature of Wally at bat in his Cullenberg uniform, cap and cleats. In the background of this drawing, sitting on the bleachers, drinking sodas and cheering him on were Higgins (Airedale) and Carson (tabby cat). In the corner near his chair, stood a tall curio cabinet filled with every letter and sports' trophy he had ever won.

Wally's pride and joy was the "Big Orange," a beautiful slightly modified Silverado truck, with custom accessories and a custom paint job — McLaren orange, the color of the Laguna-Seco racing Mustangs. His truck, one of a kind, was recognized all over town and looked new the day he died.

Above all, he loved his "kids," our large breed Airedales (four in 45 years), all named Higgins (Higgins I, II, III and IV). Four cats in the same time frame — Ming, Minnie, Carson and Punkin. Wally often cradled the cats in his arm, like a newborn baby, gently bouncing them up and down, carrying them from room to room. The cats tolerated this as they lay on their backs, feet straight up in the air, moon-eyed as they surely pondered the sanity of humankind. Nonetheless, they, like I, were lucky to have his love and attention.

How fortunate was I to have Wally as a friend and wonderful husband for 40 years. He was such a kind and gentle soul; he loved and appreciated the simple things in life — a loving wife, a cozy home, home-cooked meals, family and friends, and his "kids." All these were monumental gifts to him. He loved working at Schmidbauer, walking our Higgins every day, and particularly the peace and quiet of our lives together.

Wally is now in a secret place. He has returned from where he first was born. He was self-effacing, so kind and gentle to those who knew him. He will be remembered for his uniqueness, his kind spirit and great heart. He was the exclamation point of my life and he will never be forgotten.

He was predeceased by his mother, Ruth Harper and stepfather, Joe Harper; father, Manuel Costa; and grandparents, Fern and Tom Ross.

Wally is survived by his wife, Jude Cole Costa, and siblings, David Costa, Tracy Rymer and Yolanda Costa. His is survived by friends Stu Rosenberg, Bob Lay, Bill Kirchman, Craig Spjut, Toby Anderson and Chad Britten ... and all those who greeted him daily and shared special conversations with him as he walked Higgins around the ballfields.

And, when he shall die,

Take him and cut him out in little stars,

And he will make

the face of Heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love with night

And pay no worship to the garish sun.

— William Shakespeare

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