Robert “Bobby” Model, Jr., 36, of Cody died Sept. 16, 2009, at his home after complications from a brief illness. He had been recovering from a traumatic brain injury sustained in an accident in South Africa more than two years ago. Bobby had defied all odds and was making incredible progress in his recovery.
He was born in Cody on May 11, 1973, the son of Robert Model and Anne Young and grew up on a cattle ranch outside Cody.
As a child Bobby channeled his tremendous creative energy and focus into building projects constructing elaborately designed forts on the family ranch, engineering complicated dog sleds and go-karts, and creating a neighborhood ice skating rink by flooding his backyard.
Then he turned his attention to ski racing, becoming an accomplished downhill racer in high school and college. He attended Eastside School and graduated from Cody High School in 1991.
A love of rock climbing was cultivated at age 12 when an early mentor began taking him bouldering in Shoshone Canyon.
His childhood experiences in the Absaroka high country instilled in him an early appreciation for remote places. In college he began to develop his visual sense with adventure photography, which was enhanced by his ability to negotiate mountainous terrain. After graduating with honors in 1997 from the University of Wyoming with a degree in Environmental Economics, he covered significant mountaineering expeditions on five continents for clients in the publishing industry, most notably National Geographic.
His relationship with National Geographic began in 1995 when he was asked by climber Todd Skinner to join a Wyoming team of “cowboy climbers” that free-climbed Trango Tower in Pakistan, a feat that was featured in the April 1996 issue of National Geographic. Bobby appeared on the cover of that issue and images he shot during the expedition were also published.
“Expeditions are one thing, but I couldn’t do that for the rest of my life,” Bobby said some years ago. “It feels strange to enter a cultural environment carrying tons of equipment, bags of money and bright synthetic clothing and then disappear without really getting to appreciate the people you meet along the way.
Photo by Michael McRae
“I have this idealistic streak in me. I always hope I will get the shot that makes people understand what it’s like for people who live lives completely different than their own.”
Gradually, his interests evolved to include photographic reportage that addressed news as well as geo-political and social issues. In 2004 he moved to Nairobi, Kenya, where he lived with his sister Faith and was able to cover Africa more effectively.
But Bobby’s love for Wyoming also anchored him to Cody, where he purchased the 1907 bottling plant at Bleistein and 12th and restored it to its original condition. The top floor served as his office and Cody base.
Bobby’s photographs have appeared in numerous international publications including National Geographic, The New York Times, Outside and Mother Jones. His photography has received international recognition and has also been exhibited at the Banff Centre for Mountain Culture.
He was a contributing photographer to National Geographic Adventure Magazine and in 2006 was selected as an Emerging Explorer by the National Geographic Society Missions Program.
Bobby possessed an inexplicable magnetism that drew people to him from all walks of life. He was a devoted and loyal friend to so many whose lives were enriched by his presence. Whether sharing a strong coffee somewhere in the remote reaches of the world or drinking a beer on his deck in Cody, time spent with Bobby was always an adventure.
Part of what made him such an exceptional photographer was his extraordinary character. His quiet strength, humble manner, absolute dedication and unusually thoughtful approach to everything in life will forever inspire and inform all who knew him and all who will learn of him.
And his special (and sometimes irreverent) sense of humor will continue to bring laughter and joy to all.
Bobby is survived by his mother Anne Young and stepfather Jim Nielson, father Bob Model and stepmother Mona Model, sisters Faith and Austine Model, and an extraordinary collection of friends and extended family from around the world whose outpouring of love, humor, grace and prayers during the past couple of years was an enormous support for Bobby and his family.
A family service was held Saturday (October 3rd, 2009) at Mooncrest Ranch. A celebration of Bobby’s life will be at the Cody Auditorium, downtown Cody, at 4:30 pm on October 10th.
In lieu of flowers a charitable fund in his memory has been established at: Wells Fargo bank 1401 Sheridan Ave. Cody, WY 82414.
“Wherever we are, people have certain universal emotions. We’re really all the same.”