Robert W. Hiatt, My Uncle

Here’s the obituary I wrote, at my cousins’ Bette and Niki’s request. I’m including some pictures that Niki (his granddaughter) took. If I can find a link to the Glendive, MT, Ranger story, I’ll add it.

Robert W Hiatt
November 22, 1922-April 26, 2013

Beautiful portrait of my cigarette-smoking, coffee-loving uncle, by his granddaughter Nicole Payton Vanek

Beautiful portrait of my cigarette-smoking, coffee-loving uncle, by his granddaughter Nicole Payton Vanek

From a young age, I knew that my Uncle Bob was a remarkable man, unique in many ways and much loved and respected by family, friends, and the community of Glendive. Uncle Bob died on Friday, April 26, 2013, in Billings, Montana, in the home of his daughter Bette, where she and his beloved granddaughter Niki, cared for him in his final days. Doc Hiatt, Makoshika Bob—these are the names given to him by his Glendive friends and which so aptly capture his two primary roles there: the optometrist who started his business in 1947, above the bank on the corner of Merrill and Towne, and the tireless hiker and dinosaur hunter who loved the richness of the Badlands of Eastern Montana, cataloging and sharing bones with countless children, teen-agers, and Elder-hostlers. He even found a complete triceratops, which remains hidden, its location known only by one other person.
Robert W. Hiatt was born on November 8, 1922, in Topeka, Kansas, the only son of Lyman and Isabel Hiatt and the younger brother of Elizabeth. Eight years later the family moved to Dickinson, North Dakota, just across the state line from his future home in Glendive. A talented basketball player and trombonist, Bob was raised in a family of musicians and nature lovers. He enlisted in the Army in 1942, married his wife Lois Buvik, also from Dickinson, in 1943, and earned his degree at the College of Optometry in Chicago. He was stationed in the Philippines after training at Fort Snelling in Texas, where he was living when his son Robert Allan was born, in 1944. Being separated from each other was difficult for the young couple, and their letters are a treasure trove of affection and loyalty. As Bob wrote in one letter soon after Bobbie’s birth, “Perhaps it’s because I have you and Bobbie that I’m the happiest man in the outfit.”
Bette, Bob and Lois’ daughter, was born in 1948 and grew up in Glendive. It wasn’t long before Doc Hiatt discovered then-unnamed Makoshika Park, where he spent the bulk of his free time exploring. Bette told me that he often disappeared for whole days—and it was not uncommon for him to get so preoccupied in explorations that he’d forget to eat, hiking for 16 hours, before heading home famished and exhausted.
Uncle Bob enjoyed a good laugh, no doubt about it. Photo by Nicole Vanek.

Uncle Bob enjoyed a good laugh, no doubt about it.

The formation of the state park was not without its controversy. Not shy about expressing himself, Doc once attended a contentious meeting where “one side” wanted “the other side” to keep quiet about dissatisfactions with some Fish & Wildlife decisions. Doc showed with a strip of tape across him mouth. I like this story because it gives us a glimpse of my uncle’s sense of humor, his strong independent streak, and his integrity.

Survived by a daughter, three grandchildren, one great grandson, a niece, three grand-nephews, and three great grand-nephews, Robert Hiatt taught us to love the world at hand, to work hard at what we care about, to respect our communities and families, and to treasure words, using them sparingly when appropriate and letting them spill when a story needed telling.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s