Farewell To A Friend
Bob Watkins was
a long-time Taos resident, a gentleman, a scholar and
one of the kindest and wisest people I ever met. He
passed away yesterday.
When I returned to Taos to
live here full-time at the end of 1990, my friend Robby
Romero introduced me to
Rhoda (Concha) Hopper and her then husband, Duane.
Duane is David (and his
late brother Dennis) Hopper’s first cousin, and he came
to Taos during the Hopper Heyday and decade-long party
at the Mud
Palace, which is where
he met Rhoda.
dancer with Sonny Spruce’s troupe, and her (late) sister
Wanda were practically Pueblo royalty. The beautiful
grand daughters of the legendary Little Joe Gomez, often
cited as the “last Medicine Man at Taos Pueblo”, they
were both swept up by the tide of change then rocking
the planet, and like others who came of age in Taos,
found their way to the Big House that Tony Luhan had
built for Mabel Dodge.
One of the first
people in Hopper’s close circle to befriend them was Bob
Watkins, an actor friend of the Hopper brothers who had
come to visit with Sandy, his girlfriend of many years
and never left. David, Duane and Bob were ostensibly on
the front lines of Dennis’ personal army. They were his
“Guard”, his protectors and his left and right arms
during that period when so many
– friends and
strangers – passed through the Mud Palace.
And an army they were. With a mini- arsenal to boot.
In 1991 Duane gave me a job at his gallery on the Plaza.
Buffalo Dancer was one of the last true Trading Posts in
Taos; where local artisans, Mountain Men, Indian
jewelers, craftsmen and women from every Tribe, along
with gun-runners and traders of dubious objects, would
pass through on a daily basis. I worked for Duane for 5
Bob was the gallery’s
manager, who worked three or four days a week while also
care- taking Hikojji, the Zendo in El Salto built by Kobun
Chino Otagawa, his Zen
Master, teacher and friend. Bob had been ordained by
Kobun, and was a practising Zen Buddhist Monk.
A very mischievous
Monk he was; a man’s man who loved women, who had the
soft – spoken
authority of a true scholar. There was nothing
pretentious or inauthentic about Bob. He was also a
classic autodidact, well read and highly literate, he
could converse about anything from guns to History with
a quiet confidence. Bob Watkins was the best of the
He took me under his
wing once he discovered I was not just some wannabe
newbie passing through, and showed me the ropes; taught
me about Kachinas and fetishes and weavings,
sand-casting and Harvey pieces, along with unspoken
rules of the Hopper Clan’s road. Once he discovered my
love of learning and literature, he passed on stories
and books. Piles of them. He read voraciously
– if the gallery was
quiet, Bob had his nose buried in a book.
The books, like his life, took him on journeys into
unknown and vastly different territories; he read
everything, from cheesy spy thrillers to weighty,
Bob was not a snob. Literary or otherwise.
He knew, and was friends with people from all walks of
life; Hollywood actors, authors, poets, activists,
outlaws and millionaires, as well as down at the heel
cowboys. All found a friend in this gracious and
extraordinary man if they were honest and authentic. He
did not abide fools or pretentious behaviour and could
see right through a person in two minutes.
He was definitely a bit of a chauvinist and I’d tease
him and Duane about their penchant for being slightly
condescending to women. He called women “Sugar” and
“Sweet Pea”, and gave nicknames to all the children who
adored him. In the photograph above, my two girls, Dylan
(Rhoda and Duane’s son) and Molly (Stephanie and T.Bone
Burnett’s youngest) are in a love-in with Uncle Bob as
When Dylan was born, Rhoda suffered a terrible accident
at the hands of an anesthesiologist, that left her in a
coma and took years of therapy and healing to bring
about her recovery. Her sister Wanda and her then
husband, Frank Valdez, built a small home next to the
house Duane and Rhoda had built in the Canyon, to help
care for Rhoda and her children, and for years after the
Mud Palace was closed, the Canyon House became the
defacto replacement for all of their old friends passing
through Taos. Bob early on bonded with Dylan and was an
enormous influence in his life.
Bob touched the lives of so
many here in Taos; local resident and artist Jack Smith
(in the shot above) and Michael
introduced to Taos by this truly remarkable man. The two
men shared many mutual friends with Bob, some of whom he
met through them, including the writer Dan Gerber. But
they met many more through their association with him.
When Duane and Rhoda divorced several years ago, and
Wanda left her husband Frank around the same time, the
property was quiet and felt deserted. Dylan, still in
high-school remained with his father and Frank carried
on living in his house with Robin, his and Wanda’s son.
Duane and Rhoda’s two daughters had already left home to
start their own lives and families.
With Sandy gone to Hawaii, Bob bought a trailer and
parked it on the bottom of the property. The Boy’s Club
as I called it, was fully in effect.
From that moment on, the energy in the Canyon shifted
and when Duane became deathly ill after an operation a
few years ago, it was Dylan and Bob who cared for him.
And it was certainly Bob who in his infinite wisdom,
kept all of their spirits up through the darkest days.
After a fall earlier this year, his arm broken, Bob
began to look and feel frail. Always very sprightly and
energetic, the last time I saw him, at the Post Office
with Dylan the day before the election, I really noticed
the change in him. His eyes were as bright as ever but
he seemed irritated by his body’s infirmity.
I tried to get Bob to talk to me for a post on taoStyle from
the moment I started the blog, but he was not interested
in being at the forefront of anything. His reticent
nature prefered being behind the scenes. Always. Sorry
Bobby, I’ve put you up front and center now!
He never returned to Hollywood where he had worked
before coming to Taos, in fact, he never looked back.
His eyes were always fixed on the horizon, on the light
and stillness that awaited him at journey’s end.
Bon Voyage my friend, it was a privilege and an honor to
All Photographs from Bob Watkins’ private collection
Group photograph with Warren Oates,Jack Smith, Dean
Jones, Justin Fona, Harvey Phillips, Jennifer
Oates, Lorca Hjortsberg, William Hjortsberg, Thomas
McGuane, Bob Watkins and Max Hjortsberg. in Paradise
Photograph of Bob with
the children by (Neva Coloma) Nancy Neva Gagliano