Family and friends of Robert Meline will gather to celebrate his life today while attempting not to focus on his death – no easy task for those still stunned by his murder.
A 56-year-old who spent the last 25 years teaching at Camas Prairie Elementary School in Spanaway, Meline was killed in the early-morning hours of Oct. 25 in his Tacoma home. Jonathan Meline, his 29-year-old son, has been charged with the crime and remains in the Pierce County Jail.
When the Rev. Dave Brown leads the memorial today at Immanuel Presbyterian Church where the Melines attended, Jonathan will not be mentioned. Instead, the focus will be on a father of five who, like his wife, Kim, loved family, teaching and travel.
“Kim and their four daughters are still numb, and what happened was unthinkable,” Brown said. “We all have questions about how we stop those with mental health issues from hurting themselves or others.
“The community right now wants to support Kim and remember Rob. At some point we’ll talk more in our community about mental health issues.”
Remembering Meline’s life is easy for those who knew him. Rob Meline was not a man who moved quietly through his world.
“I was the principal here when Rob was hired, and he had this idea about letting the kids in his science class build and fire these rockets,” Carl Peterson said. “I’d say, ‘Not this week, Rob.’ I had nightmares about what he might burn down.
“Finally, he found a huge empty lot near campus and I said ‘OK.’ He pulled it off. Rob had no fear.”
Not even when it came to hard-to-reach sixth-graders.
“Every year before school began, we’d hear that one or two students might be difficult cases,” said Peterson, who’s now retired. “Rob would always come to my office and say, ‘I’ll take them’ or ‘You want to try them with me?’”
At Camas Prairie, the Bethel School District school where Meline and his wife both taught at one point, teachers said Meline was impossible to miss between classes.
“I remember him walking down the hall 100 mph, that cup of coffee always in his hand. We teased him that it wasn’t coffee – he was always so full of energy,” Tanya Chenoweth said. “As fast as he walked, he’d always have a smile for a student, even if he didn’t know them yet. He always had time to talk to you.”
“Rob always taught a grade level above mine, and by the end of the year my students would be begging to be in his class the next year,” Chenoweth said. “They always saw him smiling, friendly, playing with kids at lunch or recess.
“Rob had a connection to students, an energy they saw and liked.”
Meline loved the Washington State Cougars and outer space, and found time for his church choir, coaching sports and new friends.
Lynn and Ed Raisl and Pastor Brown remember a day filled with planes, trains and ferries during a spring 2011 church pilgrimage to the island of Iona, Scotland.
“Our train stopped briefly and Rob got off and started talking to two older Scottish women on the platform, and the train left him,” Lynn Raisl recalled. “Kim and I were going to stay at the ferry and wait for him, and while we were discussing it, here he came, running down the banks. He’d somehow caught a ride.
“It’s the perfect Rob story – he was so kind and gracious and loved people. Everywhere he went he met friends. Rob had an amazing zest for life.”
His fellow teachers were delighted when Meline, whose love of all things NASA was legend, attended space camp last summer in Alabama. Nobody was surprised by the result.
“Rob got a medal for being the most enthusiastic camper, and I think if he’d wanted to stay there and teach, they’d have loved to keep him,” said Peter Rivard, a fellow Camas Prairie teacher.
John Stella remembers Apple Cup weeks, when Meline’s Cougars became his favorite topic of discussion.
“He taught his kids the Cougar fight song and would have them sing it to Husky fans,” said Stella, a fellow teacher who carpooled with Meline. “His car was Cougars colors.”
Meline even wore WSU crimson-and-gray to choir practice.
“The Sunday right after he died, we all wore Cougar gear and colors at church,” Lynn Raisl said. “When Kim and the girls walked in the door, the ushers were passing out programs with all their Cougar stuff on.
“That made her laugh.”
There will be more Cougar colors when the memorial service begins today at 1 p.m., along with stories, laughter and a few tears.
Fellow teacher Scott Birdseye will be there.
“I’ve taken over his class. At 12, in sixth grade, I don’t think kids fully understand the loss – it doesn’t quite register,” Birdseye said. “But they loved him even a month into classes. They wanted to remember him, so they talked about putting ‘rest in peace’ on their papers.
“They didn’t want to do that for Rob. So they wrote ‘Rest In Space.’”
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638