Passing of Robert Hellman

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    Robert J. Hellman, for more than 20 years the editor of the BMW Riders Association magazine [I]On the Level[/I], died on March 9 at his home in Tracy’s Landing, Maryland of valvular heart disease. He was 62.

    A man of formidable intellectual accomplishments and versatility, Hellman began his academic career as a philosophy major at Marquette University in Wisconsin and went on to Columbia University in New York and Humboldt University in then-East Berlin for graduate work. Eventually he obtained the equivalent of three masters degrees and two Ph.Ds, concentrating his efforts in political science and on the life and times of Friedrich Nietzsche. He spoke fluent German and French, was a certified scuba and windsurfing instructor, held a black belt in karate, and played volleyball at a semi-pro level.

    His professional life, a matter of some mystery to even his closest friends, was spent in large part as an analyst for various U. S. government entities, including the Central Intelligence Agency. He authored two books and contributed countless articles to newspapers and magazines on subjects ranging from a history of the Army’s topographic laboratory to Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail. Most recently he edited a biography of his godmother, Alice Longworth, the daughter of Teddy Roosevelt.

    But it was with BMW motorcycles that the two great loves of his life — German culture and motorcycling — coalesced. An unabashed supporter of the brand, he logged over 300,000 miles on BMW bikes. In 1986 he took over the reins as editor of the BMW Riders Association’s magazine, rescuing the struggling club from oblivion and giving what he claimed was a voice to the independent rider. In truth, the voice was invariably that of his own, the self-proclaimed Chefredakteur (German for editor-in-chief), but his devoted readership scarcely seemed to mind. Hellman’s moles consistently provided him with scoops that the world’s motorcycle press corps could only envy. If you truly wanted to know what the motorcycle division of BMW was up to, you had to read Robert Hellman’s magazine.

    In recognition of his support of the company he became the first recipient of the Friend of the Marque Award in 1997 and the first individual to receive BMW of North America’s Icon Award a decade later.

    He is survived by his mother, Margaret; a brother, John; a daughter, Alice Sturm; his companion of 19 years, Mary Lee Kingsley; and a legion of fans.

    — Bob Higdon


    It is indeed a sad day. I first met Robert via mail nearly 15 years ago. I had written a review of various motorcycle publications, including OTL, for an article in the Yankee Beemers’ Boxer Shorts. Robert read it and took me to task to some degree in OTL for comments I had made about the layout and obsession with the MOA’s politics. I wrote him a letter and he responded with a very nice letter and some stickers. The stickers were from the ICC meeting in Italy in 1993 and I still have them stuck to my toolbox.

    In 1998, I co-chaired the RA national rally and had an opportunity to spend some time talking with Robert at one of the picnic tables. As we sat there, I was introduced to the author of Investment Biker, Phil Marx and other notables in the riding world, all of whom greeted Robert warmly. It was clear to me that one did not make friends like these without being a remarkable person in ones own right.

    I saw him again, the following year at the MOA rally in Rheinbeck, where he dragged Tina and I away from our security posts and across the street for dinner. If I recall, he refused to let us pay. We had a wonderful time and he charmed Tina, as he seemed capable of doing to anyone with an ounce of sense in their head.

    Over the last couple years, I looked forward to seeing him at the ICC meetings, but work responsibilities prevented him from attending and his presence was sorely missed.

    Personally, I’ll miss him a great deal, not because he was a consistent physical presence in my life, but because he was a shadow that loomed over my motorcycle experiences. I read his words in OTL, watched him spar with the guys at City Bike and admired his ability to skewer the thoughtless at any opportunity.

    Ride well, Robert. Wait at the stop sign, the rest of us will be along in a while.

    Dave Swider


    Ride the clouds well brother. Peace to you and to the family you leave behind.

    Cellar Rat


    I first met Robert when I started to write our local club newsletter more than twenty years ago. We often corresponded and he did me and my good friend Avery Frail the honour of adding us to OTL’s masthead as Technical Editors.

    Robert was one of the most intelligent, well-read people I ever met. He graciously handed us the keys to his Chesapeake Bay house when we were in DC, and made a regular holiday into a spectacular one for my wife and I.

    We are much the better for having known him, and we will miss him.

    Ride on, Ride on! There is an eternity of rest to follow.

    David Makin


    I am so sad that Bob is gone. We are all unique but Bob was so by multiples. Sometimes he was exasperating and I wanted to strangle him slowly. But most of the time he really just fascinated me. He thought as quickly as I did. Probably quicker. That sounds arrogant but I’m an old retired guy and I tell the truth.

    The breadth of Bob’s knowledge was wonderful. I could get into a bitter and sarcastic argument with him about the Hohenstaufen’s right before one of those speculative exchanges about automatic transmissions on bikes.

    Bob was more the eccentric English academic than the German equivalent. His taste in Hawaiian shirts alone proved that.

    OTL will certainly suffer his loss. But it’s the club members that will miss him most. With Bob at the helm OTL was an urbane and well informed journal. It kept us up to date on the latest out of Munich and Berlin.

    Ride on Bob! Smooth roads and lazy policeman to you.


    Roy Jackson

    🙁 Just read over on the MOA forum of the passing of Robert Hellman. I never had the good fortune to meet him, but read much about him. My concolences to his family and all who knew him. He will be missed. Fair winds and followings

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