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RIP Robert Hellman


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He was, I think, one of the more colorful people in BMW motorcycling through the editing of RA. I enjoyed several email exchanges with him, and his style is what made you either love or hate OTL.


I am truly saddened to have to tell you of the passing of Dr. Robert

Hellman, our Chefredakteur and Editor of the OTL magazine for more than 20

years. After a prolonged illness, Dr. Hellman, age 63, passed away Sunday,

March 9, 2008 at his home in Maryland in the company of those he loved. The

BMW Riders Association has lost the man that was the foundation and

spokesman of our organization for many, many years. No one can dispute he

was an advocate for the BMW brand, a man of eloquence and diplomacy both in

person and with his pen. The RA will truly miss him, but his wit and charm

will live forever in our memories and on the pages of our magazine.



As Region Reps, I am asking you to please pass this information along to

your local clubs, dealers and other BMW enthusiasts who may have known

Robert. He touched so many in the BMW community that word of his passing

will surely ring around the globe. Keep an eye on the RA web site for more

information on arrangements.

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Didn't know, thanks.

He was a big influencce on many people and certainly added to the experience.

RIP. frown.gif

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Paul Mihalka

I had the fortune of spending some time and conversations with Robert. I will miss him very very much. Godspeed!

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Sad to hear. He was a true character and I liked his forthright style a lot. His writing along with Bob Higdon's were what kept me subscribing to OTL.


Never have I seen a glossy publication with so many typographical errors and mis-spelled words, it was almost comical grin.gif, but the content more than made up for it.

It sort of emphasized what he considered important and that there was little time for such minutiae. He brought a level of enthusiasm and brilliance to the BMW motorcycle world that won't be duplicated.

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Wow, that's a great loss to the BMW Motorad Community.


He was the RA's Ying to the MOA's Yang. He will be missed greatly.


Peace be with you Robert.

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Well put. He's a guy that you could have taken a 12-hour car ride with and had an interesting conversation the entire time.

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Obituary from the IBMWR list. Quite a life.




Writer, Editor, and BMW Icon Robert J. Hellman Dead at 62


Writer and recognized BMW enthusiast Robert J. Hellman died on March 9 at his Chesapeake Bay home in Tracy's Landing, Maryland, of carcinoid-related heart disease. He was 62. Dr. Hellman obtained a Ph.D. in German intellectual history from Columbia University in 1972 before moving to Washington and working on Capitol Hill. During his graduate studies, Hellman was active in the affairs and publications of Columbia's International House, captivating many in the multicultural milieu with his guitar playing and eidetic command of obscure tunes and lyrics.


He grew up on Hellman Point Road in North Lake, Wisconsin, graduating from Marquette University in 1967, a member of Crown and Anchor Literary Society, and where he was greatly influenced by Jesuit Father Francis Paul Prucha, a leading native-American history authority. An early U.S. exchange student to East Germany who lived to view his own Stasi file after the secret police records were made available, Hellman lived at Trotthaus during the last years of the Cold War while he conducted research at Humboldt University for his book, Berlin, The Red Room & White Beer: The "Free" Hegelian Radicals of the 1840s (Three Continents Press, Washington D.C., 1990). There, he played on the East Berlin volleyball team. He witnessed the funeral of the alleged last Holy Roman Empress, and the collapse of the actual Berlin Wall.


A prolific writer and adroit editor, Hellman's contributions included a 1976 book produced under then House banking committee chair Henry Reuss, On the Trail of the Ice Age, which inspired the Ice Age Trail in Wisconsin. Hellman wrote for numerous periodicals including Washington Dossier under editor Craig Stoltz, among venues that extended from Daytona Bike Week coverage for The Washington Times, to A History of the U.S. Army Engineer Topographic Laboratories from 1984-1988 (Fort Belvoir, VA, 1994). Recently, he was influential in shaping the biography by Stacy Cordery, Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from Washington Princess to Washington Powerbroker (Viking Press, New York, December 2007).


A tireless proponent who helped popularize the term "Boxer" for BMW's air-cooled motorcycles, Hellman's too-salient wit once got him banned from reviewing cars for the company's flagship magazine. Designated BMW "Freund der Marke" No. 001 in 1997 and given BMW of North America's first BMW Icon award a decade later, both created with him in mind, his name became synonymous with advocacy of the brand worldwide. Vice Chairman, Motorcycles, for the International Council of BMW Clubs until February 2007, Dr. Hellman was honored later that year for his over twenty years as editor of the BMW Riders Association magazine On The Level, with kudos from participants on the order of BMW AG Motorcycle Designer David Robb in Munich and peripatetic investment guru Jim Rogers in Shanghai.


Dr. Hellman belonged to the National Military Intelligence Association and the Association For Intelligence Officers. He was singled out by the late Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger for predicting the fall of the Berlin Wall, among other achievements spanning the theatres of Granada to Bosnia, but was proudest of receiving a 1970 letter from Martin Heidegger troubling to point out two flaws in Hellman's interpretation of the philosopher's teachings.


Outlived by centennarian Jacques Barzun, who had served on Hellman's doctoral review board with Zbigniew Brzezinski and Fritz Stern, with Ph.D. Supervisor Leonard Krueger, Hellman was drawn to controversial viewpoints, frequently holding forth on a variety of subjects with correspondents as disparate as Gore Vidal and Norman Finkelstein. An avowed liberal who often saw past party lines, to the point where he once entertained writing speeches for a Republican governor, Hellman followed basketball with equal passion, cheering Dwayne Wade and decrying Duke, and attributing success in army Trivial Pursuit tournaments to the acumen that sports savvy added to a repertoire stretching well beyond an understanding of Friedrich Nietzsche. A tenured figure at The Guards in Georgetown and Mangos by the Bay in Maryland, Hellman's broad interests included crewing for Harry "Buddy" Melges, Jr., of America's Cup fame, iceboating, ice skating, windsurfing and scuba diving, a late-onset love of gardening, and an abiding appreciation of the turtles that reminded him of his lakeside childhood.


Dr. Hellman was preceded in death by his father, Dr. Hugo Hellman, Marquette University Dean–School of Speech from 1940-1969, and is survived by his mother Margaret Hellman, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; his daughter Alice Sturm and her mother, Joanna Sturm, of Washington, D.C.; his brother John Hellman, sister-in-law Odile Onimus Hellman, nephews Christophe, Thomas, and Michael Hellman, of Montréal, Canada, Etienne Hellman of Paris, France; his cousin Monte Hellman of Muenster, Texas; their collective and respective families; and his friend Mary Lee Kingsley of Bethesda, Maryland.

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Robert was someone for whom the terms "gentleman" and "scholar" were obviously inadequate. "Character, provocateur," and sometimes"rogue" were also apt. BMWRA probably owes its survival to his work as editor of the OTL, and BMW Motorrad owes him more than they could ever say. We have lost a giant and a friend. Godspeed.

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To say that Robert will be missed would be a vast understatement. I first encountered Robert more than a decade ago when I took OTL to task for their relentless obsession with the MOA and their admittedly awful magazine layout in a Yankee Beemers Boxer Shorts article.


I later met Robert when I co-chaired the RA rally in the Berkshires in 1998. We talked for a while and Robert introduced me to Jim Rogers and Phil Marx while we sat at a picnic table in the afternoon sun. I had hoped that my attendance at the International Council of BMW Clubs meetings would have provided me with an opportunity to see him again, but his work responsibilities kept him in country in the wake of 9/11.


No matter where I looked, Robert was a presence. He loved to spar with the guys at CityBike, a bay area motorcycle newsletter and when we talked about it, he stated that he just loved those guys.


I think that might best sum his feelings about motorcycle people - he loved them. He called them on preposterous statements, but did so the way a parent would chide a child for telling a partial truth.


The motorcycle world and the BMW world in particular will be a little smaller and a little dimmer with him gone.


Ride well, Robert.




Dave Swider


BMW Motorcycle Owners of America

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