Rockford author, remembered for “Madison County”, dies at 77

The Rockford High School Class of 1957. Robert Waller stands in the back right-hand corner, wearing pink. Charlie Greenman, who did not graduate from Rockford but stayed in touch with his classmates after moving, is located in the center back row.
The Rockford High School Class of 1957. Robert Waller stands in the back right-hand corner, wearing pink. Charlie Greenman, who did not graduate from Rockford but stayed in touch with his classmates after moving, is located in the center back row. Contributed photo
By Kate Hayden, khayden@charlescitypress.com

A Floyd County native intricately linked to the covered bridges in Madison County died last week after a battle against multiple myeloma. Robert James Waller, 77, died on March 10 at his home in Fredericksburg, Texas.

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Robert Waller’s 1957 high school photo. Contributed photo

As Waller was growing up in Rockford, Iowa, there weren’t many hints to his future as the best-selling author of “The Bridges of Madison County”. Waller was a childhood friend of Charlie Greenman, who moved away from Rockford with his father in the seventh grade. Greenman kept track of his former classmates through reunions, which they invited him to attend even though Greenman had not graduated with them.

“When you grow up you kind of lose track of one another, but I always had a lot of respect for the guy and how well he’s done with his writing,” Greenman said.

Waller’s family operated the Waller Produce Company in Rockford, Greenman said, and he remembered Waller as being a nice guy and hard worker.

“They would get chickens and crates in there, and then they were sorted out and loaded up on different trucks,” Greenman said. “Once in a while the chickens would get loose and run down the street.”

In perhaps unrelated events, Waller also spent time at Rockford High School on the track team. Archives of the Rockford Register reported Waller establishing a school record for the “Cornbowl broad jump” during a May 1957 meet in Charles City, jumping 19 feet and 10 inches.

Waller was also a basketball player in high school and during the start of his college career, Waller wrote.

“Basketball, so important to me in high school, became much less important by the time I was twenty,” Waller wrote in 2007. “After becoming an all-conference player in college, I stopped playing with eligibility still remaining and concentrated on my studies.”

Greenman last saw Waller in 2007, when the Rockford class of ’57 celebrated their fifty-year class reunion at the Rockford Public Golf Course. Twenty of the class of 29 each received notebooks with their high school class pictures and autobiographies of each of their remaining classmates, and shared contact information to stay in touch.

“It’s sad to see your classmates go,” Greenman said.

Waller actually enjoyed a few career rebirths after graduating from Rockford High School in 1957 –– immediately following high school, Waller was educated at the University of Northern Iowa before receiving his doctorate at Indiana University in 1968.

Waller returned to UNI, where he taught management, economics and applied mathematics until 1991, and worked as a consultant for businesses and governments during that time –– “including work in Saudi Arabia and considerable time in India,” Waller wrote for his reunion.

Robert Waller. File photo by the Associated Press
Robert Waller. File photo by the Associated Press

After leaving academia behind, Waller published his best-selling romance novel “The Bridges of Madison County” in 1992 to a torrid of sales –– more than 12 million copies in 40 languages, and a New York Times best-seller for more than three years –– and criticism from literary writers.

The book inspired a movie starring and directed by Clint Eastwood in 1995, and a musical that debuted in 2014. Waller’s published books also included “A Thousand County Roads: An Epilogue to The Bridges of Madison County”.

Waller was also a singer/songwriter and a musician, playing guitar and flute, and played two solo jazz concerts in 1999 “and decided that was enough,” he wrote in his class reunion biography.

Waller leaves behind his wife Linda Bow, daughter Rachael and granddaughter Cheyenne.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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