You may already have read the sad news: Bob Merhrman, BMW CCA Member #1, passed away on February 17 at age of 91. The obituary can be read here. In Joe Chamberlain’s video of the early history of the BMW CCA, he says that it was Bob who placed a small ad for an “owner’s group” in the newspaper and mentioned it on the air on his radio show (he was a disc jockey). If there was a founding event of the CCA, you could make a good case that this was it. Plus, in addition to being Member Numero Uno, Bob was the CCA’s first president. For these reasons, if you had to pick out one of the early members as the “club founder,” Mehrman has some pretty heavy cred for a shot at the title.
I met himonly once. In 2012, Boston Chapter member John Whetstone organized “Beezerfest” (for BMW geezers… get it?). The event was held coincident with the fourth-quarter Boston Chapter meeting. Two dozen Beezers with sub-10,000 membership numbers were there.
Now, you have to understand that I am not the old-timer some folks think I am; I was eleven years old when the BMW CCA was founded in 1969. I joined in 1984 as part of what was, in some sense, the third wave. So when I met some of the people whose photos had been up on former editor Yale Rachlin’s office wall, I was a total fanboy. Bona fide sub-10,000 old-timers included Joe Chamberlain (#7), Jim Ritchie (#15), Margo Potheau (#36), Michael Izor (#255), Gordon Medenica (#713), John Sebastian (#735), Michael Mangini, Bjorn Zetterlund (#1,594), George Cha (#1,601), Steve Jackson (#1,777), Christopher Huggins (#2,350), Henry Stahle (#2,409), Ivars Avots (#2,481), Rich Ferrante (#2,802), Kimber Hamlin (#3,185), Gene Muller (#3,930), Bob Trevor (#5,659), Cheryll Plotkin (#5,759), Dick Steiger (#5,907), Jonathan Selig (#6,902), Bette Forte Nahill, Mark Engelberg (#6,758), Bruce Machon (#9,330), and Jonathan Katz (#9,403).
Bob had had a laryngectomy to treat throat cancer, and spoke with the aid of one of those handheld voice amplifiers pressed up against the side of his neck. It took all of ten seconds for me to get used to it and discover what an engaging and funny guy he was.
I’ll never forget him telling me about the demise of his 2002, which was never the same after being completely encased in snow during what was known in Boston as the Great Blizzard of ’78. He drove it, damaged and running badly, to a nearby dealer (Foreign Engine in Everett) and was talked into buying a new 320i, a decision he rued. “What a piece of crap,” Bob said to me. I will always remember hearing the then-84-year-old man talk with such salty candor, the voice amplifier rendering his story in a monotone but in no way taking away any of the humor, the expressiveness, or the passion.
About a week and a half ago, Bob’s son Barry told Joseph Chamberlain that Bob had gone into hospice care and likely had only perhaps a few days to live. Chamberlain put out the word via e-mail: “I think that BMW CCA Member #1 should get a royal sendoff. Could you notify the Beezers to quickly send out cards?” John Whetstone forwarded it to me, and I put the announcement on my Facebook page.
Unfortunately, the cards arrived after Bob had passed away, but his son Barry was grateful, saying, “Thank you. Dad was very proud of the BMWCCA and his role with the founding members.” (Note: When the son of the founding member uses the original no-space spelling of “BMWCCA,” who am I to correct him?)
Life is about belonging to something. I have been blessed to belong to the BMW CCA. It never ceases to amaze me what seeds can grow, 50 years later, out of something planted in the garden of passion. I’m not a believer in heaven, but Bob, wherever you are, I hope you’re back in a ’68 2002 and rounding up the faithful.—Rob Siegel