When my husband, Rob, was in architecture school at the
University of Minnesota in the 1980s, he shared a studio with three other guys,
two of whom were named David. After college, the four of them stayed tight, and
in the years since, they continued to meet regularly.
Dubbing themselves The Davids, they focused their meetings on touring a new Twin Cities building—a library, a museum— and then repairing to a coffee shop to critique the design. Sometimes they would discuss personal matters, such as family, but mostly they confined themselves to the good points, and especially the failings, of the buildings they had just toured. Architects are trained to be critical, and nothing was more fun for these guys than dissecting the design flaws of one of our city’s latest edifices.
In 2006, Rob suffered a severe left-brain stroke
from a blood clot that formed following the dissection of
his carotid artery. He was 45 years old. At first, the future looked bleak for
our family. Our two daughters were still in grade school and I suddenly had to
juggle the finances, Rob’s health, my own full-time job, and raising our girls.
In the first days and weeks following his stroke, the doctors expected him
first to die and then to be so brain damaged that he would be forced to live
out his remaining years in a nursing home.
As Rob began the process of
relearning how to walk and dress himself, the meetings with the Davids were
suspended for many months. It must have been especially tough for his three old
friends to see the toll the stroke had taken on Rob when they resumed their gatherings
about a year later. Once the most idea-filled and articulate member of the
group, he was all but mute those first months, struggling even to follow their
Oh, but how he looked forward to their meetings. Before Rob could
drive, he was regularly chauffeured to these gatherings by one of The Davids,
none of whom lived anywhere near our Southwest Minneapolis home. The chance to
talk about architecture and be in the company of longtime buddies acted as a
tonic on Rob. He always returned from their meetings lit up by architecture and
comradeship. One building that stands out in my memory is the University of
Minnesota’s own Bell Museum, designed by one of the Davids, David Dimond
(B.Arch. ‘89). Rob was captivated by its signature huge street-facing window, in
which a mastodon could be seen looming over Larpenteur Avenue.
hit in 2020, The Davids switched to Zoom calls. It wasn’t nearly as much fun as
touring buildings and criticizing them over coffee, but for me it offered a rare
glimpse into their abiding friendship. Even through the door of his study, I
could hear how Rob’s laughter changed as he spoke with these men he’d loved for
These meetings did me good, too. Many of Rob’s closest friends and colleagues had disappeared after his stroke, falling away from some combination of sadness, fear, and cowardice. Not so The Davids, who stuck by the man within, the man they’d loved since he was an ambitious boy. Their loyalty went a long way toward softening my cynicism about the fate of friendship in the face of disability.
Lynette Lamb (M.A.’84) is a longtime Twin Cities journalist. She and her husband, Robert Gerloff (B.Arch.’85), live near downtown Minneapolis. This essay is excerpted from her memoir, Strokeland, where she shares the unvarnished truth about how their family coped with Rob’s stroke and learned to live with his life-changing disability. For more information, go to lynettelamb.com