Robert Michael Barnhill (Bob) passed away peacefully at the age of 86 on November 29th in his home in Sonoita. Bob will be remembered by many for his charismatic charm, wit, and generous heart. He leaves a legacy of contributions made over the years to his community.
Bob was born in Tucson in 1935. He lived with his parents and brother, Larry, on the corner of Highland and Linden Street when there was nothing but desert to the north. Bob was an Eagle Scout and graduated in 1953 from Tucson High where he was part of the undefeated varsity football team that won the state title that year.
After a year at the University of Arizona, Bob joined the Navy. Later, he married Calista Donohoe and returned to the University as a young husband and father, graduating in 1960 with a degree in Chemical Engineering. Bob worked as an engineer and in related sales fields for many years as he and Calista raised their children. He was an award-winning float builder for the Indian Ridge 4th of July parade, much to the delight of his children. With his father, Bob was an active member of the Tucson Rodeo Parade committee for many years.
Bob moved to the Sonoita area in the 1980s and spent many years raising Arabian horses with his second wife, Kaia Johnson Bunn. Bob helped to establish the Sonoita Crossroads forum, served as a board member and active supporter of the Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Association, and served as an Advisory Board member for Save the Scenic Santa Ritas. Bob was a founding member of the Sonoita Fire Department where he volunteered as a firefighter, first responder and dispatcher for SEESI and later SEFD. Bob and his third wife, Barbara Smith, split their time between Sonoita and Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands. Bob and his fourth wife, Gail Woodard, traveled extensively, especially in Latin America where they often lived for several months at a time. They established Dudley Court Press, a contemporary hybrid book publishing company in 2008.
Bob was the patriarch of a large, blended family. He was preceded in death by his parents, Barney and Flossie, his son John, his spouse Kaia, his spouse Barbara, and stepson Carl Bunn.
He is survived by his wife Gail Woodard and three stepsons, Duncan (Noel) Shea, Reed (Avia) Shea, and Casey Shea.
He is also survived by his former wife, Calista Donohoe Schafer, and their children Meg (Dave) Gebert, Jim (Tina) Barnhill, Sam (Darcy) Barnhill, Patty McDonald, and Michelle Lewis. Other survivors include his brother Larry Barnhill, stepchildren Sara Bunn (Tom) Shifrin and Brad (Mary) Smith, as well as nephew Patrick Barnhill, many grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
Bob valued family and community above all else. He lived fully until the very end and left this life peacefully, passing away next to a window with a view of the tall grass and land he loved.
A celebration of Bob’s life will be held on January 29th at 11:00a.m. at the Sonoita Elgin Fire Station, 3173 Highway 83, Sonoita, AZ.
Donations may be made in Bob’s memory to the Sonoita Elgin Fire District for protective gear and equipment, education, and training.