LIFESAVING LEGEND: Bob Holden had a 39-year love affair with the lifesaving movement.
LIFESAVING LEGEND: Bob Holden had a 39-year love affair with the lifesaving movement.

Passionate volunteer Bob had love for all sports

BUNDABERG lost one of its most enduring gentlemen of the beach when devoted surf lifesaver Bob Holden died after a long illness recently.

A passionate volunteer, lover of sports, storyteller, mischief maker and above all a doting husband, father and grandfather, Bob was 71.

Heartbreakingly, he died three days short of his 48th wedding anniversary with Shirley, who had been by his side for many of his adventures and volunteering efforts.

Robert George Holden was born in Bundaberg on July 15, 1945. He attended Bundaberg West State School and later Intermediate School, before starting a panel beating apprenticeship at the local Ford dealer, Macs Motors (now Coral Coast Ford).

The first sport he threw himself into was rugby league, playing for Natives (now Easts) as well as at representative level. He also coached junior league for several years, with many youngsters benefiting from his experience and advice - almost always delivered with a cheeky laugh or two.

When Bob retired from league, he took up the relatively new sport of touch. With his enthusiasm and passion for the game, it wasn't long before he was president of the Bundaberg Touch Football Association.

For his dedication and commitment, he was awarded the first life membership of Bundaberg Touch Football Association in 1987.

But it was surf lifesaving that would eventually take up the majority of Bob's energies.

Bob and Shirley joined Elliott Heads Surf Life Saving Club in 1978, when eldest son Craig joined as a nipper.

It was the beginning of a 39-year love affair with the lifesaving movement, during which he was awarded life membership not just of his beloved Elliott Heads SLSC, but also of the Wide Bay Capricorn branch and Surf Life Saving Queensland.

Bob was everywhere at Elliott Heads - at various times junior activities officer, deputy president, trainer and assessor, coach and surf sports officer - and for more than 25 years he was also a well-known face officiating at surf carnivals across the state.

He was also well known to hundreds of regulars at the Tattersalls Hotel, where he and Shirley oversaw the famous Saturday fundraising chook raffles for years.

Bob brought more than just a volunteering spirit to the beach. An adopted dad, uncle and granddad to many at the Elliott Heads clubhouse, he was always ready with a hug and a smile, some cheerful words of encouragement or perhaps a cheeky story or two.

Son Craig, Surf Life Saving Queensland's regional manager for the Wide Bay Capricorn branch, said it was that smile and zest for life that so many people would remember.

"The overwhelming memory that has been shared by so many people has been dad's smile - almost everyone has said that they will never forget his smile and I suppose this was something that we took for granted until we started sorting through photos and other memories,” he said.

Sadly, illness loomed over Bob's later years, with a lymphoma diagnosis in 2007 - which he eventually beat with the help of a stem-cell transplant - and oesophageal cancer in 2016.

Bob had endured many challenges, victories and defeats throughout his personal and sporting life, but this latest illness was to be his final, crushing defeat.

He died peacefully on April 23, after a life filled with fun, family and enduring friendships.

His funeral, at Branyan Gardens, was attended by more than 400 mourners, all of whom had been touched by his love, wisdom, resilience and optimism.

"We probably never really appreciated the contribution that dad made across some many sports and organisations, nor how many people he had crossed paths with during his life, until we were blown away by the amount of people who turned up at the funeral - and by the amount of messages of support, cards, flowers and general well wishes that we have received as a family since his passing,” Craig said.

"He was a caring and supportive father for myself and Brett, a loving pop to his four grandchildren and a second father to so many children and teenagers who have progressed through the ranks of the Elliott Heads Surf Life Saving Club under the tutelage of both him and Mum.”

Bob is survived by wife Shirley, sons Craig and Brett, daughters-in-law Kristine and Rebecca, and grandchildren Baylee, Kobi, Mia and Evie.

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