Field Notes

Remembering an everyday superhero

Remembering an everyday superhero
Robert Libke (Photo from Oregon City Police)

Peter Parker. Tony Stark. Rob Libke.

All regular people by day who turned into superheroes.

Just ask Libke's nephew, Dustin Lies.

“He was the bravest person I knew, the smartest,” he says from his home in Montana, where he is still getting used to the fact that the person who was a father figure to him was gunned down on Sunday.

“There is no one who could match him. He spent his life wanting to help people. And that’s how he died….helping people.”

On Monday, when Oregon City Police Chief Jim Band announced Libke had died from the injuries suffered when he was shot responding to a fire, Band pointed out that Libke was a reserve officer who was paid for some work, not paid for other.

Band’s point wasn’t to diminish Libke’s work, but to highlight the fact that the officer was doing the work because it was what he believed he should be doing.

“I never knew he wanted to be an officer until he was accepted to the academy,” says Lies. “All I ever knew was that he felt a sense of obligation to help make the lives of others better.

“That was his life. That was his death.”

Lies last saw his uncle in June, when Libke and his wife came to Montana for a 10-day visit.

“It was all about family,” Lies says. “That’s what those visits were always like. Everyone spending time together. It doesn’t get better.

“He meant so much to everyone. He means so much to everyone.”

Lies says it’s hard not to see his uncle – who helped raise him after his father died – as a superhero.

“He was a guy who had a regular job, who did regular people things, but then, when he had the chance, put on the uniform and put himself at risk to help others,” he says. “If that’s not what a superhero is, I don’t know what is.

“He was a stand-up guy, the definition of a stand-up guy. He set the bar for everyone to try and live up to.”

Lies says that he imagines his uncle would do his regular job – working at a steel plant – and then go off to fulfill his responsibilities as a reserve officer with no thought other than he would be helping people.

“I am sure that his first and last thought was always what he could be doing to help others,” he says. “I have no doubt that even when he didn’t have the uniform on he was looking to do things for people.

“I read that one of his neighbors was talking about how he chased down a guy who crashed into a bunch of mailboxes and then tried to get away. He had a sense of right and wrong.”

Lies says that so many memories of his uncle are of Libke offering him advice.

“He taught me so much,” he says. “He taught me about relationships, about how to be with other people, how to treat people. He made it clear that there is a right way to act and a wrong way.

“I didn’t have my dad growing up. I had him. He was that guy that taught you to be a stand-up person.”

Lies admits that when he had heard his uncle had joined the academy, he had misgivings.

“I was concerned,” he says. “I was worried about him, worried about whether he would be safe. In the end, though, it’s clear that he was doing what he felt he needed to be doing. As weird as it is, I am kind of comforted knowing that he died doing what he believed in.

“He was always giving of himself and, in the end, that’s exactly what he did. I am so very proud of him. There is not a moment in my life in which I wasn’t proud to be his nephew.”

Lies says “he was the one guy I could go to on anything and tell him stuff that I couldn’t tell other people. He would not judge me. He just always seemed to give me that advice that I needed.

“Now, I don’t have that guy anymore and it hurts.”

Lies says the hardest part is knowing that Libke will never know his own child. His wife is six months pregnant.

“That’s the one thing that he always wanted to be, a father,” says Lies. “He really wanted to be a dad. I can’t quite describe how good it will be that he will have a child.

“It’s so important that on some level he will still be here.”