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In Memoriam: Xiaobo (Bob) Wang

Jim Sallis. September 25, 2017

Dr Xiaobo Wang contacted me by email in 2015 and expressed an interest in being a visiting scholar with our research group at UCSD. He was Associate Professor of Physical Education at Zhengzhou University of Light Industry in China, with a background in exercise psychology. Because I cannot agree to sponsor everyone who requests to visit with us, we scheduled a phone call. The call reassured me that Dr Wang was well-acquainted with our group’s work, he had specific plans to use the visit to start new research directions, and his English was very good. Thus, I agreed to sponsor his visit. Dr Wang and his family began their visit about February 2016 and stayed until February 2017. During this time I got to know Bob (his preferred English name), his wife Lilly, and their 5-year-old son Prince very well.

Bob spent almost every work day at the office, and he became friends with all the staff and students. He was always in a good mood and was enthusiastic about learning from everyone. He participated in meetings, learned from Kelli Cain how to use accelerometers, and received substantial tutoring in statistics and study design from Terry Conway. His primary goal was to develop and publish a manuscript using one of our databases. Bob’s main interests were in youth sports and physical activity. Because he was very tall and had been a lifelong basketball player, this sport was a main focus of his teaching and research. We decided he would lead a paper based on our TEAN study of adolescents. He was eager to learn about built environments, so his paper topic was the interaction of built environment and psychosocial variables to explain adolescents’ active travel. To pursue this paper he had to conduct several literature searches, become familiar with a complex study, and learn new statistical methods. He persevered and produced a manuscript in collaboration with the whole study team. The paper received positive reviews from Preventive Medicine and was accepted before he departed in February 2017. It appeared in print soon thereafter. He was very pleased with this outcome, because he had fulfilled the terms of his visiting scholar grant and believed this paper would help him obtain funding for research to be done in collaboration with our team.

Bob received a Certificate of Completion of an accelerometer training from Kelli Cain. 2017.

Bob participated in the accelerometer training with colleagues from the World Bank, Malawi, and Peru. 2017.

During the visit, Bob and sometimes his family, participated in our team’s social events. Here are some photos of our social times together, including a trip to the Anza-Borrego Desert East of San Diego.

Bob and Prince with Jim in Anza-Borrego Desert. 2016

Prince with sculptures in Anza-Borrego Desert. 2016

Bob, Prince, and Jim at a holiday celebration in San Diego. 2016

July 4th luncheon 2016. YiYi Lee from Malaysia, Jim, Bob, Shemi, Lilly, and Prince. At Jim and Shemi’s home in San Diego.

Bob, Jim, Prince, Lilly. On the pier in Pacific Beach, CA. July 4, 2016.

Bob at the SPARK Trainers’ Meeting. San Diego. Summer 2016.

YiYi Lee, Jim, and Bob enjoy a day in Tijuana, Mexico. 2016

Bob attends a private tour of Tijuana. This is the restaurant where the Caesar Salad was invented. 2016.

Bob, on a pedestrian shopping street in Tijuana, Mexico. 2016.

During Bob’s time in San Diego a very sad event occurred in my life. Shemi, my wife and companion for 39 years, became ill, was hospitalized, and died. Bob did everything he could to support me in this difficult period. He was the only person who visited Shemi and I in the hospital virtually every day. I appreciated deeply these visits, his concern, and his friendship. I think these actions revealed the strength of Bob’s character and his goodness as a person.

With all of these positive professional and personal memories, it hit me very hard when I learned that Xiaobo Wang died suddenly September 16, 2017 at about age 38 years. I was informed by a Chinese colleague who was collaborating with Bob to jointly sponsor my first visit to China. Apparently, Bob was doing what he loved, playing basketball, when he had a heart attack and died immediately. He was taken to a hospital but could not be revived. This was news that came as a complete shock and surprise, because no one expects such a young and healthy person to die with no warning. The news of Bob’s death hit me hard, and as I informed other members of my research group, I had to watch their sadness and disbelief. My heart aches for Lilly and Prince who will mourn Bob the rest of their lives. They will have to carry on and make the most of their own young lives, but they will carry a weight of sadness. Our whole team sends love, best wishes, and positive thoughts to Lilly and Prince. We will miss Bob too.

My Chinese colleague told me that Bob had a strong wish for me to visit China, so I will continue my plans to do so. I will do my best to spend some time with Lilly and Prince so we can mourn together and remember our good times together with Bob. Peace to Bob, Lilly, and Prince.

Bob’s farewell lunch in San Diego. February 2017.

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