PALM SPRINGS – Bob Elsner was a dedicated public servant who possessed an insatiable curiosity, a passion for local news and politics and a commitment to the truth.
They were the undeniable traits of a journalism major who graduated USC.
Though his life took him in other directions after graduation, he had a fire in the belly for news – and holding public officials accountable.
He always had a news tip. One thing was certain when you received a news tip from Bob Elsner: It was spot on. Unlike some news tips that lead journalists down a rabbit hole, Elsner’s tips were solid. He was the E.F. Hutton for journalists.
We first met in 2002 when former Palm Springs Mayor Will Kleindienst appointed him to the Palm Springs international Airport Commission. We had an immediate bond. He was patient and kind and would take his precious personal time to better explain a Commission action, vote or expenditure.
Kleindienst has since said Bob Elsner was the “perfect” appointment. Kleindienst gets no argument here.
Bob Elsner and I lost touch when I returned to South Dakota and later when I moved to Montana. But when I returned to Palm Springs, we picked up right where we left off.
“I really look forward to receiving and reading your newsletter, and to also know that you’re available to resume our long-interrupted connection,” he wrote me in an email. “Hell, I was surprised on receiving your e-mail today, that you even remembered me.”
Who could possibly forget Bob Elsner?
He has a sense of humor once referring to a certain group of politicians as a “cast of characters.” He was spot on.
He was many things to many people and there are countless words to describe him. First and foremost, he was always a gentleman.
As a champion of Palm Springs, Bob Elsner wanted what was best for the city and its government. He protected and defended those he believed were wronged or slighted. He knew the people and personalities. He understood nuance And, he knew where the bodies were buried.
Nowadays when someone disagrees with what is written or an opinion, they grab the closest keyboard and cut loose with hate-filled rhetoric on social media. That was not Bob Elsner’s style. If he disagreed with you, he told you so – firmly but politely.
I will miss you, Bob Elsner. I will miss your emails and your never-ending support. Most of all, I will miss your kindness.
Editor’s note: Following is his full obituary. His beloved daughter and constant companion, Alison wrote it.
ROBERT HOLMES ELSNER – Obituary
June 2, 1933 – May 4, 2020
Robert Holmes (Bob) Elsner passed away on May 4, 2020 after suffering a stroke 10 days prior in his home. He was 86 years old.
Bob was described as a leader from his early years throughout elementary and high school in Santa Ana, California. He attended Santa Ana College from 1951-53 (for which he was named a member of the Hall of Fame in 2002) then transferred to USC where he was an active member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity and served as business manager for the Daily Trojan (the “DT”), fitting for his major in journalism, receiving a B.A. in 1955. After two years in the U.S. Navy where he served as sports editor, Bob married Nancy Lee Robison, whom he’d known and pined for since elementary school including DURING their partnership In high school student government. Their USC vs. UCLA alma-mater rivalry lasted well into their marriage (Nancy having attended UCLA), but both eagerly supported and made it possible for their daughter Alison to carry the USC legacy. Bob stayed true to USC for many decades as a Cardinal and Gold member, Skull and Dagger member and enthusiastic fan of USC football games at the Coliseum.
In 1957, Bob and Nancy moved to Portland, Oregon for Bob to take a position at Allen’s Press Clipping Bureau, followed by a position at OMI (Oregon Medical Industries) and then his role as CEO of the Multnomah County Medical Society (MCMS). Their only daughter, Alison, was born in 1963 in Portland.
In 1977, Bob was named to the position of CEO of the Los Angeles County Medical Association (LACMA), at which point the family relocated to San Marino, California. In 1985, Bob was selected to become the Executive Vice-President and CEO of the California Medical Association (CMA). Bob and Nancy made the move to Belvedere, California in the bay area while Alison was attending USC. Bob was regarded as an energetic and innovative leader in the field of association management and organized medicine, demonstrating his priority and passion involved advocating for the advancement of organized medicine and the protection of physicians and their practices throughout California and the nation.
During his medical society tenure, Bob was as a member and named Chair of ASAE (American Society of Association Executives) in 1985, a prestigious organization that enabled him to forge alliances with colleagues and leaders in an impressive number of hospitality and related industries as well as political circles.
Bob retired – for a while – in 1994, revisiting the professional arena to serve as Executive Director of the State of California Sesquicentennial Commission under Governor Pete Wilson, of whom Bob was a staunch supporter and ally.
In 2001, Bob and Nancy moved to Palm Springs California where Bob’s “volunteer” work lead to his appointment for two terms as the Chair of the Palm Springs International Airport Commission, Palm Spring Rotary President, interim CEO of the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce, member of the advisory committee for the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and other community roles.
Nancy died in September 2016, after which Bob (and Alison) remained in Palm Springs. His greatest sources of pride and purpose were his deep friendships with people across multiple generations, industries, geographic regions and even political persuasions. He regularly donated to veteran’s organizations.
Bob seemed to be fearless in social and professional situations, however he possessed a compassionate and emotional core. His personality was marked by sharp wit, boundless energy and keen intellect, including a detailed and nuanced knowledge of history and politics. Wife Nancy always noted that he became the leader for every single organization within which he participated. She also noted that he was a bit too outspoken at times, fortunately expressed in a way that made people laugh and motivated others. He was a generous husband and father with an unstoppable work ethic, and he provided for his family throughout his entire life.
Bob is survived by daughter Alison of Palm Springs, half-sisters Barbara Elsner Angier of Anaheim and Rheta Elsner Morse of Garden Grove, cousins Paula Elsner Nurse and Pamela Elsner of Honokaa, Hawaii, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Cremation services were private, however those wishing to support Bob’s preferred charities are asked to donate to Paralyzed Veterans of America (pva.org) or Boys Town (boystown.org).
- Kleindienst: Facebook
- Bob and Alison Elsner: Alison Elsner
- Bob Elsner: Alison Elsner