The following is the inspiring story of Mr. Rafter, his oldest child Casey, and a homeless man named Jerry as told by Mrs. Rafter in answer to some questions asked of her.
As an aside, Bob and I were high school sweethearts – different high schools – same neighborhood. He was my best friend.
How many children do you have?
Bob & I have five children: Casey, 25 (and just married on Nov 12!) who graduated from VA Tech with a degree in Building Construction and currently working for American Infrastructure as a project manager; Kevin, 22 graduated from JMU and (thankfully has a job) working for Pricewaterhouse Coopers; Kristin, 20, is attending Marymount University pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice; Kenny, 17, is a senior at Seton. He is in the midst of college applications and would like to get in to UVA to major in engineering; and last but not least, Claire, 14, is a freshman at Seton who would like to go into nursing school when she graduates from Seton. As a side note, Bob never went to college (neither did his parents or any of his 5 siblings). My parents brothers and I were college graduates. It was very important to Bob that our kids go to college so they would have better opportunities in life.
What was Mr. Rafter’s work?
After high school, Bob enlisted in the Navy and became an ET (electronic technician) and worked on a submarine tender. The Navy provided him with training and schools required for his job in the Navy – which ended up being crucial to him getting the
job with the U.S. Secret Service 10 years later. After being honorably discharged from the Navy Bob worked construction with his brother-in-law up until after we had our first child. He started a new job with an Arlington cable company, then went to
work for a cable company in Fairfax where he met his friend John. John was biding his time working for the cable company while his application was in for a technical security position with the Secret Service. Bob trained John. John eventually got through the vetting process with the Secret Service and left the cable company. Three years later the Secret Service had openings in their technical security division and John contacted Bob and encouraged him to apply – since Bob had taught John everything he knew, he felt Bob was a good candidate. At the time, applicants did not need a college degree, so Bob figured what the heck? He'd always wanted to "see the elephant" (which he did after applying for and getting the job with the Secret Service). Bob went in for 3 interviews and each time he was asked how his wife felt about all the travel he would be doing since he had "so many" children (at the time, only 3). He told them I was totally supportive of him getting the job. It was the Navy training and his continued use of the skills and knowledge learned through that training that landed him the job at the Secret Service – as well as his ability to befriend just about anyone he met.
Bob was a Physical Security Specialist for 10 years at the Secret Service. He provided technical security for the President, Vice President, heads of State, as well as other high profile protectees. He would go in advance of the protectee (usually the president) and do a "sweep" of the venue(s) the President would be visiting or staying in (hotels, private residences). It included inspecting the entire facility as well as working with Secret Service and military EOD teams (Explosive Ordinance) to check for any explosive devices.
His biggest venue was the Olympic Village during the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, UT.
When Bob started working in D.C., he always noticed homeless people near his office building and would feel badly for them. He'd seen many homeless people before, but not on a daily basis and not so up close and personal. He talked to a few coworkers about it, and they told him not to start giving them any money because then they would bother him all the time. He reluctantly took their advice, but it always bothered him.
Could you tell the story of your husband’s death?
The day of Bob's death (Thursday, Sept 12), he brought Casey to school a little later in the morning. I happened to be working at the front office at the time. I saw a homeless man in front of the school, and Bob started talking to him. They talked for a while. When Bob was done talking to the man he came into the school and told me he was going to go home and pack up a backpack with "a few things" for the homeless man. He'd told the man to come back to Seton later in the morning and the backpack would be there for him. So, Bob did as he promised – he packed up a backpack with a Gortex jacket, cans of food (tuna, soup – anything that could be eaten right out of the can) and bottled water. The man's name was Jerry. I never saw him again after that day, so he didn't know Bob had died later that very same day.
A couple months later – December? January? Casey and one of his friends were at a nearby Taco Bell. There was a man standing in front of him in line. Casey thought the backpack looked familiar – it was the one Bob had given Jerry. So Casey asked
the man if his name was Jerry – and did a man named Bob give him that backpack? Well, it was Jerry and he DID remember Bob. Casey told him Bob had died that same day he gave Jerry the backpack. He expressed his condolences to Casey.
Casey then asked Jerry if he needed anything. Jerry mentioned that the Gortex jacket was nice, but it wasn't very warm. Casey noticed the backpack had gotten pretty worn out and one of the straps was about to break. He told Jerry to stay there – he'd be back.
So, following his father's generous spirit, Casey went home and packed up a new backpack with the down jacket that went with the Gortex one, and packed it full of food and water for Jerry. He took it to Jerry, still waiting at the Taco Bell. To hear Casey tell the story was so heartwarming, and it certainly made him feel connected to Bob in a very special way.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
What Bob did on that Sept 12 wasn't extraordinary in his eyes – it was just what he felt he had to do. Bob had taken the day off because he didn't feel well, but I think he used that day to slow down, talk to everyone he ran into, and listened to their concerns – their needs. Jerry was in need of companionship, clothing, food & water. Bob met Jerry's needs that day. Bob always gave of himself – and he passed that example on to his children.
That day was his last – though he didn't know it. Bob did what he had to do when it mattered.
I often wonder if it was in answer to my prayers for Bob's "full" conversion. He was baptized Catholic, but wasn't raised Catholic. The week before we were married he made his first confession and my mom was his sponsor for his Confirmation. He received his First Holy Communion on our wedding day.
I think Bob's story made such an impact on everyone who heard it because he died that day. We don't know when our last day will be either. Bob took that opportunity on that particular day to help someone in need.
Since Bob's death I look at life a lot differently. Slow down, don't sweat the small stuff (which Bob always reminded me!), spend more time with family, friends, helping others – the house work will ALWAYS be there, but our loved ones won't. I slip into my "old" ways sometimes, but am always reminded of Bob's absence in our lives.
I have to remember: What if the person we were to help one day never had someone reach out to them before? It would give them hope.
Jezu, ufam Tobie