Bob Rowe was making it as a musician touring all over the U.S. as a young man — but he didn't find it fulfilling. Instead, he found his calling playing music for people in nursing homes and developed an unlikely friendship with Mother Teresa.
Bob Rowe: I was 15, I think, when I got my first guitar. So, I started going around to the local clubs and berating the club owners to hire me and give me a chance. That kind of started the ball rolling and I got an agent and was traveling around all over the country and doing clubs in cities like Milwaukee and Des Moines and New York. And it just wasn't fulfilling for me. Even on the nights, which was the odd thing, when everybody was clapping and showing love and support for me, I still felt empty.
Bob was a successful touring musician in his early twenties. Bob now tours nursing homes and brings his music to the elderly.
When I went to a town far away, I would seek out the local nursing home, go in and do a free show in the afternoon, and feel more like, this is … this is home.
(Singing) "Together again…”
They smiled and laughed, and people that were slumped down in their wheelchairs would straighten up and smile and come alive again because maybe they've heard a song they remember from the old days, or something that brought back a memory of their loved one or their spouse or their children or grandchildren. It makes them feel warm, you know — it makes them feel loved. And it makes them feel part of the human family, part of the community.
Bob doubted whether he could make this calling work.
I started being besieged by doubt. The world was hitting at my spirit, telling me, "Oh, you're never going to get money." I was watching PBS one day in my early twenties, and there was a documentary that had just been made about her called, "Mother Teresa, Gift of Love," and I was just captivated — by her genuineness, by the enormity of her love. So I wrote a letter, which was more confessional on my part than anything else. I never expected to hear back.
About two months later, this small, little, yellowed envelope — and Calcutta in the return address — and I thought, "This can't be." It was, you know, "God bless you, Mother Teresa." And just the first letter about, "I thank God for His love for you and for the love that you're giving to people through Him and continue to use music to bring the love of God to those who need it the most." I would send her photographs that were taken of me and my artists in nursing homes and she would write notes on them and send them back to Michigan to me.
For years, Bob and Mother Teresa wrote letters to each other.
You know, some people say they’re afraid to go into a nursing home — afraid to go in because of all the suffering. And I go, "Oh" — I said, "You start to sing a song and you're going to see more smiles than you've seen in a month."
I still love it. I still have the same fire and the same enthusiasm and the same passion I had 35 years ago. If it wasn't for my Catholic faith, I wouldn't be doing this. I think the Scriptures are really true when they say, "Unless we become little children, we can't enter the kingdom of God." And as one that works with the elderly, I somehow wonder if that passage means that's why we become elderly, you know? Because we become childlike again in our honesty and our openness and our dependency on one another.
(Singing) Oh yeah.
Elderly woman: You're so good!
Bob: Thank you. I try.
Woman: You love me, don't you?
Bob: I love you to pieces.