Robert G. Sabato, 1954–2023

Robert Girard Sabato, Jr. leaves a legacy of connections—ripples of his generosity, compassion, and expertise throughout Western Massachusetts. And let’s not forget levity and honesty; he would not want us to take things too seriously or to leave out the human stuff here.

Known as Rob to his siblings and childhood friends and as Bob by most everyone else except his wife, whose pet name for him was “Bob Sabato” to distinguish him from the many Bobs in their lives. Bob died of melanoma on August 8th at his home in Springfield. He was 69. Married to Diane for 39 years. Sober for 34.

He loved Diane, his sons and his family along with golf, salami, The Sopranos, Eric Clapton, and a good cigar with a friend, not necessarily in that order. After the recent birthday party celebrating his life, Diane gathered up the words the 87 guests had used to describe him, and the standouts are: wise, loyal, kind, caring, and funny. He was affectionate, soft-hearted, and a romantic, leaving notes on Diane’s car, though that was probably just to win her over when they were dating. He continued being a moon doggy throughout their marriage. He was also a little bit bawdy if you were game for that sort of talk. But gentle too: he was a true baby whisperer and ended up holding the baby at any gathering where one was available. With his mustache, he looked a lot like the actor Sam Elliott in a button-down shirt and khakis.

Bob was born and raised 45 minutes north in Turners Falls. His older sister, Pam, loved him immediately. He spent many of his early days in The Cone Shop, the luncheonette and magazine store owned by his dad and grandmother, a mainstay on Avenue A for many years. Tuesdays were the best days, the day the new comic books were delivered, second only to Wednesdays, when his Dad made the ice cream. The store closed when Bob was in third grade. His dad became a police officer while his mom was a nurse.

Bob was popular and a little bit wild, a ball of energy—okay a hellion—definitely the most mischievous of the siblings. He dented the bookshelves in the family’s new house with a baseball bat before they even moved in. He ran into a clothesline and broke one of his front teeth, which was repaired with a silver cap. He then didn’t smile with his teeth showing for years. He wore blue jeans with patches upon patches that Pam sewed for him. He played Little League baseball, later football, was president of his class, and picked tobacco during summers. The girls adored him too. Trouble ensued.

Bob and his younger brother Chris pranked Pam constantly, leaving items in her bed, like fuzzy old decorative soaps and a vacuum cleaner. This continued into adulthood.

He went to American International College, joined a fraternity, and drank too much. He married Ann right out of college, and Joshua was born in 1980. Bob and Ann divorced a few years later.

Receiving his master’s degree in clinical psychology in 1981, Bob began work as a therapist. Throughout his career, he worked in inpatient, outpatient, and partial hospitalization programs. He retired as clinical director of Valley West Day School in 2019, where he helped children between five and eighteen. He also taught psychology classes at Elms College and Holyoke Community College and worked as a trainer for Parents Apart Seminars for Divorcing Parents. He was good at what he did, and that’s maybe an understatement.

Bob’s opening remark to Diane (their first- time meeting) as he sat behind his desk was, “I’d stand up and shake your hand, but I’m not wearing any pants.” He’d split his pants at work and had taken them off to be repaired. The rest, they say, is history. They married, had two more sons, Trevor and Maxwell, and were the original blended family. Life was busy, and they didn’t have a lot of money. They camped for vacations. Bob didn’t have the patience for setting up tents, so he’d arrive after the set-up.

Bob often struggled with his feelings in the early years of his sobriety, and had a tough road on his 34-year recovery. He got sober. He made amends. He was still angry sometimes and retreated to his mancave. Bob and Diane talked openly and honestly about the hard stuff. In other words, a good marriage, hard-fought and well earned.

Bob didn’t like change and hated to travel as much as he loved vacation. Then he made it to Italy, where he had the time of his life in Rome. He fell in love with the food and the people and the surroundings. Of course he did! Something felt like home, which makes sense given that he was three-quarters Italian. But most of the time, Diane would be out in the world on vacation, and Bob would be playing golf. Every birthday, he played the same number of holes as the years of life he’d lived.

Though he referred to himself as a recovering Catholic, Bob had a strong spirituality and faith in a power greater than himself. He went to AA meetings. He prayed every day. Recovery-oriented, he would often say, “I should be dead or in jail.” He had such an appreciation for life. It was a daily reminder of the transformation he’d made.

Back to the ripple effect: Bob was friends with colleagues, students, mentees. People like Jeff Trant who met him as an undergraduate when he took Bob’s class on stress and coping at Elms. Jeff describes Bob as exuding the level of calmness and serenity that was missing from his own life. Bob swooped in and helped during a rough time, and probably saved his marriage. The two have remained friends and Bob’s been ever-present, especially when Jeff needed grounding in his life. Even in his illness, Bob was still giving counsel and referring patients. He helped plan his funeral and chose all the songs you’ll hear.

More ripples: he knew the person who owns the funeral home and knew Father Mark who is leading his service. His family will keep his ashes in a cigar humidor and later will scatter them on his favorite golf courses.

Bob is survived by wife, Diane Sabato; his sons and their wives, Joshua (Krizia) Sabato, Trevor (Coleen Dunn) Sabato, and Maxwell (Amanda) Sabato; his grandchildren, Adelaide (Addie), Landon, and Sophia; his sister, Pamela Ave Maria; his brother, Christopher Sabato; and many sisters/brothers-in-law and nieces, nephews and cousins. He was preceded in death by his parents, Robert and Anna Sabato. Bob’s memorial will be held on Saturday, August 19th at Byron Keenan Funeral Home & Cremation Tribute Center, 1858 Allen St, Springfield, MA. Calling hours 9 am to 12 noon, followed immediately by the memorial service. Please consider making a donation in Bob’s name to the Center the for Child and Human Development at Georgetown University: Be sure you specify the Center for Child and Human Development as the donation recipient under “Other.” Other ways you can honor Bob:

• Call a friend to ask how they’re doing.
• Have a cigar in the backyard.
• Play a few holes of golf.

dear person services

Writing your own obit is a fulfilling exercise that will be a big help to your loved ones when you die. I also have a structured program, with one-on-one coaching, to help guide you through this important project.

learn more & sign up