From the Publisher
By Mike Panozzo
Mike became editor of Billiards Digest in 1980 and liked it so much that he bought the company. He has served on the Billiard Congress of America board of directors and as president of the Billiard & Bowling Institute of America.
April: Family Matters
I DON'T imagine many Billiards Digest subscribers know who Bob Inserra was. For that matter, I'm guessing very few people who currently make their living in this industry knew Bob either.
Doesn't matter. You're going to get to know him now because he was a man worth getting to know.
You see, Bob Inserra was as much a part of Billiards Digest's history as Willie Mosconi, and probably more important.
Bob was a salesman, the best kind of salesman. Bob sold advertising space for Billiards Digest, as well as our parent magazine Bowlers Journal, for 20 years. This was ad sales before pie charts, cost-per-thousand and click-throughs. Bob sold ads based on personal relationships. He wasn't the high-pressure, 10 calls-a-week sales pest. Nor was he a small-talker. Bob knew everything about his customers and their businesses, and he was as genuinely friendly as they come. (Although advertisers seemed to have a tough time with Bob's last name, many assuming his wife's name was Sara. I would even get ad submissions addressed to Bob and Sara!) Advertisers loved Bob and loved talking about business with him because he was genuine, trustworthy and a great listener. Bob did his best work at trade shows and conventions, where he would always be seen chatting up customers, camera in hand. He took dozens of photos at every show, and sent hand-written notes with copies of the photos to virtually everyone whose face found its way into his camera's lens, regardless of whether that person was a customer or prospect.
Bob was, as BD founder Mort Luby called him, our "secret weapon."
But that was just the business side of Bob Inserra.
Unimposing, yet the captain of Indiana University's football team in 1953, Bob was foremost a family man. He and his wife Dorothy raised seven children (Roberta, Christine, Catherine, Mary Jo, Michael, John and David). From the day I started at Billiards Digest, Bob treated me like I was his eighth child. I spent many days and evening with the Inserra clan. I remember going to watch John and David play high school football. (David has since become one of Illinois' most successful high school football coaches.) Every Inserra event was a family event. I grew up with three brothers and two sisters, and we are all close, but I'd never seen a family support system like the Inserras. Individually, each child was absolutely unique. Collectively, they were every bit a team, and a juggernaut at that.
Bob was an organizer. Every party and get together had to involve a competition of some sort, be it bocce in the backyard or some kids game. And he loved getting everyone into pools football, basketball, baseball, whatever. Winners always received a poem from Bob. He loved writing poems. Games and pools and competitions were his way of creating and strengthening bonds a seemingly lost art these days. There were no strangers, no outsiders at an Inserra function.
On the eve of his 65th birthday, Bob was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells. It should have been the happiest time of his life, the lead-in to some well-earned time of relaxation with his wonderful family. Because multiple myeloma is incurable and leads to kidney problems, median survival is less than four years. It seemed such a cruel break.
Bob wouldn't hear of it. His kids were grown and married, and he wanted to be in on all the grandkids that would get to call him "Nonno."
Bob fought cancer for 17 years, spending the last five getting daily dialysis. During that time, he got to hold 23 grandchildren in his arms. I saw him shortly before Christmas, and he said his next goal was to be around for the birth of his first great grandchild. (I told him if he wanted to stick around longer, he should set a goal of seeing the Chicago Cubs win the World Series!) In January, just weeks before passing, Bob held little Palmer Floyd, his first great grandchild, in his arms.
Bob Inserra's funeral was celebration of a man who placed family and friends above all else. Not surprisingly, it was one of the largest-attended funerals I've ever witnessed.
I stopped going to church regularly many years ago, but I still very much believe in the power of family and the power of prayer. Bob was blessed with an abundance of both. I'm not sure which was more powerful; the impact his family and their prayers had on his living more than 17 years after being diagnosed, or his impact on others through his spirit and sheer will to live during those 17 years.
It was probably a draw.
I do know that my life is better for having known him. I know that I'm a better person for having known him.
And that's why I thought it important that you get to know him as well.