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Mike, Mills beer manager (left), and Robert, Mills spirits manager (right).

Last night, after close to two months of searching and deafening silence, Robert Stewart, known to many around town as the spirits manager at Mills Fine Wine & Spirits in downtown Annapolis, was found in the water near the Naval Academy.

Before I continue, I do want to say one thing. I know there are many out there right now — close friends and family of Robert’s — who are grieving now in a way that I cannot even begin to understand. I am not trying to speak for them, nor am I attempting to tastelessly personalize a tragedy for my own benefit. I am just one person who was extremely lucky enough to have Robert in my life for the short time I did.

While Annapolis is the capital of Maryland, it’s still got that small town feel. You run into friends while out and about who ask how you’re doing and genuinely want to know the answer. This was new to me since, as a Washington, D.C., native, I was used to people answering “How are you?” with “How are you?” in passing, with no one actually ever sharing how they were doing. That said, I’m not sure anyone cared.

The first time I walked into Mills Fine Wine & Spirits at 87 Main Street last summer, I met Mike, their beer manager. Like their website says, “Put Mike on your list of the ‘nicest people you’ll ever want to meet.’” Though I was a little put off by how genuine and friendly he was, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to be friendlier and less icy than my usual stand-offish, city-dwelling self. And I’m glad I did.

It didn’t take too long for my husband to start joking, “If you can’t find Liz, she’s probably at Mills.” Through Mike, I got to know the rest of the crew at Mills — including Rob. Going there became much more than just finding new beer and supporting a local business. I was hanging out with friends.

There’s no one anecdote I can share that poignantly encapsulates why Rob was a special guy. If you met him, you know he just was. I could reference Oct. 27 of last year — Mike and Rob’s shared birthday and the day after my own — where the photos above are from. But it was just another fun afternoon of conversation, sharing a few birthday “tastings,” (see: shots) and making jokes.

It’s the sum of so many little things. Rob’s always on-point dry sense of humor coupled with his distinctive, soft-spoken voice. His strong views on what qualifies as a “good” horror movie. How he always tried every single beer I brought in to share with them, even though I don’t think he ever liked any of them. Ever. How kind he was, always more than willing to listen if you just needed to talk. Heh, even his hair which, if you ever met him, you know deserves a mention. It was downright majestic.

The last time Patrick and I saw him was the night he disappeared. It was Midnight Madness and we were in Annebeth’s. He didn’t say hi, and we didn’t even see him come in. All of a sudden, we just felt a hand come down on each of our shoulders, as he pulled us into a big, warm bear hug. He was smiling from ear to ear. It only took moments for Patrick and him to fall into their usual video game chatter, so I rolled my eyes and continued to putter around the store. When I rejoined the conversation, Rob’s face lit up with an idea. He had always wanted to start a trivia team at Galway Bay — the hardest trivia anywhere, he said — and asked if we were game to join him the following week.

Of course we were, we told him. He clapped his hands together, pointed at us and said he would text me in the morning about it. “This is going to be great!” Then he rejoined his group.

The next day, Rob didn’t show up to work — completely unlike him — and was reported missing. Less than a week later, people from all around the community were gathered in front of Mills at 8 p.m. for a search party, listening to a detective explain what to do if they find anything while they were out.

And then there was nothing. Until last night. Just as quickly as he vanished, he was gone for good.

As I said, there’s no way to ever do justice to someone’s life and the impact they had on others. (I’m sure those closer to him could do much better than this hack job – for that I apologize.) And there’s no way to explain the void that develops when someone you care about is, in a single moment, no longer there.

All I can say is this: Rob, I am better to have known you. Maybe that’s all I should have written here.

I am better to have known you. And I miss you.

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