The islands were saddened Monday as news of the passing of Bob Wilmer circulated among his legion of friends and fans.
Wilmer, 84, passed away peacefully Sunday at the Schneider Regional Medical Center where he was being treated for a heart condition.
Wilmer was born in New York and moved to St. Thomas in 1971, where he began his radio career at WVWI RadioOne, before moving permanently to WSTA.
Wilmer filled a pronounced gap in the island community, which he had made his own, from Tickles Dockside Pub to the tennis courts, ball fields – just about any place where sports were played, local affairs debated or music played.
Though a radio personality, Wilmer shied from the limelight. According to his close friend, Anita Davis, "He didn’t like a lot of hoo-hah, but I’ll bet he’d be tickled to know how many people cared for him.”
“He made a real family here,” Davis said. “He had friends from all parts of the island."
Davis and Wilmer got to be friends at WSTA in 1987. She said on Monday, "We’ve maintained our friendship since that time. We’d meet for lunch once a week at Percy’s Bus Stop; then we wound up at Tickles every Sunday for brunch. When I went in today, a chair was tipped at his usual Monday table. They really loved him."
WSTA station owner Addie Ottley said Monday afternoon, "He has left us. He has been ill for some time with a heart problem."
Ottley marveled at Wilmer’s dedication. "He’d still come in to work early in the morning and record his sports show, then go down to Tickles – that was his hangout."
Ottley couldn’t offhand say how long Wilmer had worked at the station. "Umpty-nine years,” he said. “Many, many years. He was a character.”
"We joked a lot about sports and what’s happening on the island,” Ottley said. “He was a very dear friend and colleague. He knew his sports and he loved it."
Tickles owner Lou Morrissette, still digesting the news, said Monday, "I just found out this morning. Bob was a regular, an entertaining individual, always had a story,” he added.
“We were neighbors 20 years ago. He was very kind, a gentleman. We’d always talk politics, a debate, a friendly debate. Those are the things I’ll miss. Tickles was Bob’s place. This is where he held court."
Another old friend, Larry Benjamin, was shocked at the news. "It’s a real blow," Benjamin said. "He never complained. Many times we’d get together for coffee at Tickles, and he’s say he was fine. He was a very private person."
Benjamin said he first met Wilmer at WVWI. "He was the engineer in 1975 when I had the Community Music Room show,” Benjamin said. “We became good friends. In fact, it was Bob who sponsored me for the Rotary Club of St. Thomas in 1986. He was president of the club in 1988-89. He was a good buddy, a good friend."
Percy Taylor, owner of Percy’s Bus Stop, said he found out about Wilmer on Sunday when he and his wife had gone to the hospital to see him. "We were too late," Taylor said.
"I’m really going to miss him. He’d come by to collect his mail and we’d go on about the queen." Taylor said when they spoke at Percy’s bright red London double-decker bus, which fronts his bar, Wilmer would “tell me he had dropped by to see the queen, and she had sent her greetings to me. We always had a few laughs over the English,” he said. “I’m going to go out tomorrow and find an English flag to bury with him."
Wilmer was known to his actor pals in New York’s Central Park as "Robot" for his skill on the ballfield. According to Davis, Wilmer still maintained contact with his New York pals.
Wilmer’s talents extended to sales, writing, editing, photography and production, Davis said. He played softball and tennis, and was honored by the West Side Tennis Club in 2006 for his service to the sport.
He was editor-in-chief of Caribia Digest, a Virgin Islands music magazine, in the early nineties. He supported all local athletic endeavors from Little League to 40 plus.
Ottley said a tribute to Wilmer will be held next week at Tickles. He will announce the date on his show on WSTA.
Funeral arrangements are by Turnbull’s Funeral Home.