In Memoriam: Bob Machler 1933-2013


A strong turnout of DVARP members, including former DVARP presidents Don Nigro and Tony DeSantis, came to St. Catherine of Siena Church in Northeast Philadelphia to pay their final respects to Bob Machler. He was a co-founder of DVARP (along with Harry Hyde) as well as an officer, volunteer, and an inspiration during his 40 year participation in transit advocacy. Bob suffered a stroke and died April 12, three months after retiring from our board and accepting the title of Director Emeritus.

Customer service, planning, and government relations personnel at SEPTA also valued Bob as an ally in their efforts to improve the system and to increase public support for trains, trolleys, and transit in Philadelphia.

His greatest strength was the way he could work with different people: our partners and our adversaries, or – as Bob saw it – those we had on our side and those we should try and convince to be on our side. This was particularly helpful with elected officials: Bob was tactically savvy enough to frequently beat the politicians at their game of bending public policy to suit their own agenda.

There were other talents too. Older members will recall some of the political cartoons Bob drew, and the work he did in promoting DVARP and supporting trolley and train service.

While Bob was usually soft-spoken, he was by no means meek. In meetings, we sometimes saw the righteous anger he reserved for officials who put their own interests ahead of the common good.

At the end of his career, Bob’s biggest contribution was the wisdom of his years. I would not make an important decision before hearing what Bob had to say about it. Even if there was disagreement about something, he usually could point out an aspect that had been overlooked.

Bob rarely turned down an opportunity to help DVARP, and I freely admit to taking advantage of that when we arranged for Bob to be honored at the SEPTA board meeting in January. Bob was too humble to want credit for his accomplishments, so I had to fib to him that we need to make sure we had a representative at the meeting in case there was any discussion of transit funding issues.

It turned out to be a typically cold, rainy January day, and, when the meeting started without him there, I fretted a little about making Bob come all the way down to Center City via bus and el. But Bob’s dedication carried the day one more time. He came into the room just in time for Kim Heinle to read the proclamation in his honor and present him with a plaque.

He was overwhelmed by the gesture, and couldn’t stop talking about it when he saw me. I told him it was the least we could do, to show our gratitude for his service. Bob’s wife Eleanor told me several times how much the honor meant to him: and I think I understood why: it validated a lifetime of service to others.

An Army bugler played Taps at the graveside, in recognition of Bob’s military service. As the flag was folded and handed to Eleanor, my thoughts were on Bob the citizen. A man who loved his country and his city, answered the call to defend it, built a strong family, and devoted his time and talents to improve it by starting and leading an association of like-minded people.

Rather than St. Peter, I envisioned Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, and the other founders greeting Bob at the pearly gates, saying “Come here everyone! Here is the kind of citizen we had in mind when we established the United States of America.” Thank you for the example you set every day, Bob.

Excerpted from the comments of DVARP President Matt Mitchell in the April, 2013 edition of the Delaware Valley Rail Passenger newsletter