Remembering Bob Tennison
By Carol Bowman
Picture this. Over 50 years ago, before airplane cabins were pressurized, as a plane was taking off and gaining altitude, the hatch door popped open! A dashing young steward, the first male flight attendant to work for Braniff Airlines, grabbed the door, hung onto it and attempted to close it without falling into the sky. That steward was Bob Tennison, and that story was just one of the funny experiences shared by close friends at the recent Memorial Service to celebrate the life and times of Robert Roland Tennison. He died on Aug, 31, 2016, at the age of 93.
Born in Dallas, Texas on August 13, 1923, Bob spent his youth learning how to be a proper Southern gentleman. He joined the US Navy after graduation from high school, and then used the G.I. bill to complete a degree at the University of Southern California Commercial Art School. His received acclaim for his fabric and wallpaper designs while working at Virginia Helmsley Studios in NYC.
Later, he changed professions, and life as an airline steward provided hilarious material, which Bob turned into ingenious short stories. While working for Braniff, Bob flew to Hawaii 148 times. His goal of 150 runs loomed, but on number 148, the plane had serious landing problems, a near-crash. He decided that he didn’t need to make those two additional flights.
Bob and his life partner of 46 years, Allen Turnipseed, moved to the Lake Chapala area in 2000. They designed and built their home in Riberas del Pilar, where they, three dachshunds and a German shepherd lived a peaceful life. He dedicated his free time to serving the needs of St. Andrews Anglican Church.
With his flamboyant, wild clothes, his quick wit and unending jokes, Bob entertained writers at Ajijic Writers Group and readers of El Ojo del Lago monthly magazine with stories gleaned from his untamed imagination and storehouse of life experiences. Awarded Best Fiction in 2011 and Long Standing Contributor of 2014 and 2015 by El Ojo del Lago, who can forget his last appearance at the El Ojo Awards luncheon in 2015, when he came decked out like a sailor.
Due to failing health, Bob spent his last years at Casa Nostra Nursing Home in Riberas del Pilar. On Aug. 31, long-time friend and fellow writer, Jim Tipton, gave Bob a special gift. Jim, Jim’s sister, Nancy and Cindy Paul gathered at Bob’s bedside to sing a few cherished hymns. Despite being on the brink of death, Bob acknowledged his gratefulness for their kindness with a brief glint in his eyes and a scratchy, barely audible ‘thank you.’ Bob Tennison died peacefully several hours later, to join his beloved partner.
Thanks to his close friends, John McWilliams and Earl French for providing bio information.