Estelle Bogoch Stelmach

Last wishes granted for beloved entertainer

White Rock's Robert Stelmach, also known as singer-writer-storyteller Max Tell, was surrounded by positivity to the end of his life.

For Estelle Bogoch Stelmach, it’s a time of great, and understandable, heartache and loss.

Her husband of 10 years, Robert Stelmach – also known as children’s entertainer Max Tell – passed away on Dec. 13 at the age of 70 after a short battle with cancer.

But there has been some comfort for her, too. She said she marvels at the way Robert remained positive right to the end of his rapid decline – even leaving her a list of typically caring messages and reminders to look at every day.

Most of all, she is happy knowing that Robert’s last four wishes were granted before he passed.

The storyteller, writer, singer and songsmith extraordinaire was a familiar face to generations of White Rock and South Surrey residents who had experienced his gentle nature and upbeat presence at many gatherings and events around the Peninsula.

Like others around the world, they’d sung along with him as he crooned his catchy, delightfully silly songs to his own guitar accompaniment; they’d been engaged and inspired by his imaginative stories, which never failed to entertain even if they had a deeper educational purpose – often connected to his long-standing passion for encouraging literacy.

Even before he had any thought of having cancer himself, he had contributed a fundraising song to Peg’s Pals, a group of women volunteers with whom Estelle partnered in the White Rock Cancer Relay For Life.

As Estelle wrote in her last update to friends and family on Dec. 18, he was “a special man with a big, warm, loving heart.”

She told Peace Arch News she found those emailed updates – there were five in all – were the best way to communicate with the many people who wanted to call or email and offer their support.

In the brief time since Aug. 21, when she and Robert learned his condition was terminal, they wanted to concentrate energies on fighting the disease, recuperating from the effects of radiation and chemotherapy and “living one day at a time.”

Now, Estelle has more time to say how much she and Robert appreciated the support from family and friends – even well-wishers who were virtually strangers to them.

“I don’t know anyone who had so many friends,” she said. “It was astounding the number of people who called up to ask, ‘is there anything I can do?’ I couldn’t stop them.”

She can also say how much they valued the work of staff at the Peace Arch Hospital hospice, the palliative unit in Surrey Memorial Hospital and the BC Cancer Agency.

And she has thanks for all those who helped Robert’s last wishes come true.

Robert wanted them to renew their vows and place his wedding ring on her finger – which they did in the hospice unit, a few days before he passed, complete with music, cake and ‘bubbly’ and a few close friends.

And though his daughter Anna was able to visit throughout his illness, he also wanted to see his son, Aaron – who lives in Toronto. The day after the ceremony, Aaron arrived unexpectedly.

Robert also wished he could see his collection of stories for young readers, I Double Double Dare You To Read This Book (complete with illustrations by Estelle) in print.

Although it and a young adult fiction collection, A Fist Of Bees and Other Stories, are scheduled to be published at the end of February, it it didn’t seem as though typesetting and layout would be ready before then.

But just 15 minutes before Robert and Estelle renewed their vows, a proof copy of the first book was delivered to Estelle, complete with a difficult-to-obtain Canadian Archive number.

“I walked into the lounge and placed it in his lap,” she said. “He was thrilled beyond words.”

The fourth wish seemed even more unlikely – an admirer of Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, for whom he had written a song, Robert was convinced he would meet him.

Though a face-to-face meeting was impossible, thanks to the intervention of friends of friends, the improbable happened a day before Robert passed – Hadfield called Robert direct from Britain, where he was about to deliver a speech.

“Although Robert couldn’t talk by then, Chris was so sweet and so kind – he talked to him for, at the minimum, 20 minutes.

“I said, ‘May I play Robert’s song for you and he listened and laughed and said ‘I love it.'”

While Estelle said she isn’t religious or a big believer in the supernatural, she said it’s hard not to feel Robert’s presence every time the old mantel clock chimes in their White Rock home.

“One of his brothers came to visit him in hospital three weeks before he passed, and I asked if he wanted to see our home, and he saw the clock – which they’d both grown up with – and said he was so glad it was working.

“The next day it stopped working, which wasn’t really surprising – the last time it was repaired was probably 80 years ago and there would be a build-up of dust in all that time.

“A week-and-a-half after Robert passed, I was home at night and the clock started chiming, and I said ‘Robert?’ It’s been chiming two rings every quarter of an hour since then.”

 

Just Posted

UPDATE: Missing Surrey snowshoer found dead on Mt. Seymour

North Shore Rescue resumed its search today after efforts were temporarily halted Tuesday due to snowstorm

Suspect charged after four Surrey banks were robbed in just four hours

Financial institutions in North Surrey targeted on Feb. 12

Surrey says WorkSafeBC should be in charge of asbestos abatement

City staff say WorkSafeBC has ‘greater knowledge, experience and expertise’ concerning asbestos

Surrey RCMP say 14-year-old boy stabbed at Guildford mall

Police say the boy had ‘non-life threatening’ injuries, suspect arrested

Former NHL star Fleury in Surrey for conference on child abuse

At Surrey City Hall, two-day event hosted by Sophie’s Place Child and Youth Advocacy Centre

VIDEO: Massive elk herd runs across Washington State highway

Elk have been making an appearance in the Pacific Northwest

Winter storm freezes U.S., halts air travel

Storm dumps snow or heavy rain, snarls travel in much of U.S.

Gwyneth Paltrow: Skier sued me to exploit my fame, wealth

The incident happened in Deer Valley Resort in Park City, Utah

Highway one will be closed tomorrow for avalanche control near Golden

The closure is expected to last for two hours

B.C. Seniors Advocate questions labour shortage in care homes

Are there really no workers, or are care aide wages too low?

B.C. business groups worry about looming economic decline in wake of NDP budget

The party’s second government budget focused on plenty of spending, business advocates say

Man injured in police shooting near Nelson has died: B.C. police watchdog

The death follows an incident in Bonnington on Feb. 13

Experts urge caution after 10 human-triggered avalanches across B.C.

One man is still stuck after avalanche on south coast

‘It consumed my life’: Inside the world of gaming addiction

World Health Organization classifies gaming disorder as a mental health condition

Most Read