PHOTO: Taken during 1965 Chicago Bears training camp at St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana.
NOTE: This is the introduction to Bob Kilcullen’s biography, a book still waiting to be published. Bob is an artist who is still drawing and painting. He was a defensive lineman for the Chicago Bears for about nine years. He played for George Halas and was part of the 1963 Chicago Bears world champion team.
Bob Kilcullen was a hyperactive child, filled with energy and unable to remain focused on a single task, unless it required extreme physical exertion or utmost attention to detail. Most of those about him saw him as a problem kid, out of control and hard to handle. He suffered from ADHD, but no one called it that then. Those close to him couldn’t help him, except for a teacher and a few friends outside the home. The teacher was Sister William Claire, a Catholic school nun who taught fifth-grade. “She had a great sense of humor,” Bob recalls.
To get out of the classroom and to find solace on activities he liked, Bob played sports, in school and after school. He also worked on a farm during the summer. He grew up in south St. Louis. He was born there in 1934. When he was six or seven, Bob remembers being run over by a car driven by a local judge. Bob and his older brother were playing ball with friends in an alley close to their home. The judge, who Bob claims was driving drunk, dragged him under the car, a Packard. Bob was lucky, though. He had a few bruises and survived. Someone took him to a hospital on a paint truck, was treated, and was later released. The judge never apologized.
Bob hated school and didn’t do well in class, but excelled in sports. He played ball for the Southside YMCA, in the Stags AC baseball team. Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola were once players in that team. He also played football and once in high school, he helped Southwest High win its first public schools football championship. He was recruited by two universities and ended up playing for Texas Tech. After college, he went on to play for George Halas and the Chicago Bears. In 1963, Bob and his team beat the New York Giants and won the World Championship.
Bob also liked to draw. While in elementary school he drew a scene of children sledding. The drawing won an award and was displayed in his school. A local newspaper reporter came to visit Bob and wrote a story about the drawing and about Bob’s artistic bend. In college, he was the arts editor of La Ventana, Texas Tech’s yearbook. Over the years, Bob has tried to find financial success as an artist, and he’s still trying. He still draws and paints.
ADHD still haunts Bob. His mind is an eternally turning whirlwind. Some eighty years after being born, his body no longer pursues hard physical activity, but his brain does, in its own way. He’s always thinking of something, thinking of ways to get things done, or figuring what needs to be done to improve this or to improve that. He’s not at peace at ease; he needs action, work. That’s how it is with Bob. At home, he spends most of his free time at his desk drawing. His work place is a makeshift studio, a crowded room, probably meant as a waiting area for visitors in a modest house where he and his family live in north Texas. The walls are covered with his art: paintings, oils, acrylics, drawings. The largest piece is an oil-on-canvass painting that takes over one side of the room; it is a painting of a horse with its prominent legs and hoofs shooting out from the wall. The smallest piece is an unframed ink drawing of Prince Charles; the piece rests on top of the desk, propped up against the wall next to the window.
The painting of the horse goes back at least three decades; the drawing of Prince Charles is more recent; maybe no older than a decade. The desk is busy and covered with file folders, pens, pencils, drawings in progress and one or two mementos. When Bob mentions some clipping or letter or other written evidence of the stuff he’s done, he will more than likely say that the keepsake is somewhere on his desk. And it probably is, but there’s no need to let him find it.
People trust Bob; it’s not necessary to see the evidence. There’s also a bookcase filled with books, mainly about football and the Chicago Bears. The name Halas seems to stand out among the titles. Two large dogs live inside the house. They’re tame, but scary, especially when they quietly begin to sniff and inspect those who enter the place. They don’t jump on people or bark, they just sniff and walk around them slowly and after a while lie down not far from them. “These darn dogs,” says Bob. It doesn’t take long to forget the dogs, though. Their quiet presence tends to disappear into the setting.
As briefly mentioned before, Bob played professional football for Halas, in the late fifties and part of the sixties. He was a defensive lineman. Just recently, Bob was invited to go to Chicago to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of winning the 1963 world championship. There aren’t too many Bears players left from that year’s team, maybe twenty or so. He says that only ten of them were able to make it to the shindig; the other ten are no longer able to travel.
Bob is a large man. He’s not the bulging kind of big, though. He’s just tall. He says he lost weight during a bout with cancer in 2001. Not a good way to lose extra pounds, but it is one of those collateral benefits most cancer survivors would rather forget. At almost 80, thirteen years past that fling with death, Bob looks good. There’s no apparent evidence that the disease once struck him. He walks mostly upright; his speech is clear and deliberate; his mind is still sharp and able to retrieve facts from the past, except for a few moments when he forgets what he wanted to say. Some people blame that on age.
After playing professional football, Bob tried hard to make it as an artist in the Chicago area. But he was never able to sell enough drawings or paintings to consistently put food on the table. He and his wife Katie already had three children. In 1968, Bob and his family moved to Connecticut to be closer to the art world and to continue to pursue his calling. But Connecticut was no different. Bob was again unable to gain sufficient income from his art to make a living and after two years, he and his family moved to Saint Louis, the place that had seen him grow up. He had a job lined up there; he was to work selling commodities for a broker. The job helped pay the bills, but it was a bad fit. Besides, Bob’s heart was still in the arts, so during his free time, he continued to ply his creative energy on paper and canvas.
On a friend’s advice, in 1973, Bob, Katie and their growing family moved to Dallas where he was given a chance to strike it in commercial real estate. It worked. The job not only helped him earn a decent wage, but also provided the venue in which one day he would help define the urban future of the center of Dallas. Bob did something that till now has been buried and forgotten in north Texas history. He was instrumental in convincing James Clark and other Dallas key art lovers and museum board members to build the Dallas Museum of Art at the place where it currently thrives.
Sometime in late 1976, Bob found a potential site for the arts venue, on Harwood Street near the freeway. Some civic leaders involved in the museum’s expansion and the building of a new facility, wanted the venue to remain in Fair Park or someplace close to it. Bob thought otherwise. He believed that the facility would better serve the public if it were located close to downtown, to public transportation, and to the center of Dallas. Eventually, Bob convinced them about the salient benefits of having the museum built in what is today the arts district of Dallas. After given the go ahead by the museum expansion project leaders, Bob secured options to buy the land. A ballot measure to finance the project and build the museum followed, but failed on the first attempt. It won the voters’ approval, however, during a second round.
Bob’s done other things besides football, art, and selling commercial real estate. In 1969, he played the leading role in the film “Finney.” It was a low budget production that went nowhere. Bill Hare was the person behind the film. In his October 23, 1969 review, Roger Ebert said, “Finney could have been one of those films we’re always looking for.” Of Bob’s acting, Ebert added: “Bob Kilcullen, the former Chicago Bear who plays Finney, is a gruff and likeable actor.” The movie flopped, though, and Bob’s incursion in film began and ended with “Finney.”
Kilcullen has also tinkered with inventions. In January 1973, he received the patent for his “Scootle,” a wooden coaster for tots to help them learn to walk and propel themselves with their own feet. Bob still has the prototype he built when he first thought of the gadget. The wood is worn and the paint faded, but it was once used extensively by his children to move about the house. Bob tried to commercialize the “Scootle,” but after Mattel, the toy company, came up with its own plastic version of a coaster, he gave up on his plan.
While selling commercial real estate in the Dallas Fort Worth area, Kilcullen got in the restaurant business with a partner. It was a smokehouse located near Main and Preston, in Frisco, Texas. It was in the mid-1980s. The venture didn’t do well and after a couple of years the restaurant closed. “If anyone wants to write a book about how to fail in the restaurant business,” says Bob, “they need to talk to me.”
Other doings had better results. After moving to Dallas, Kilcullen became involved in charity work. He was once the president of the Big D chapter of the NFL Alumni Club. During his term, the charity, with help from local donors, paid for a trip to Paris, France, for eight young women from the Girls Club of Dallas. They were being rewarded for their distinguished careers or community service accomplishments. “It was a cultural tour,” says Bob.
During the last eight decades, Bob has taken on more than just a few challenges, usually striving to stay busy to fight off the pernicious demands of ADHD. He understands the malady and so does his wife Katie. Over the years, after poring over innumerable scientific journals and medical studies on the condition, both her and Bob have acquired more than a layman’s take on the causes and effects of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
They both have learned to cope, too. Bob has used his knowledge to learn to accept the ailment and live with the anxiety that often trumps his everyday life. In a way, the daily struggle has helped him. His creative self has risen to herculean heights and, according to my own experience after examining countless art samples, the findings point to feelings of despair and pain masterfully splashed on many of his creations. Bob’s garage is filled with some of his paintings and his drawings. Some of those works of art paint troubled minds. Faces with eyes wide-open, struggling faces. Painted with reds and yellows, blacks and other colors that convey distress and agony.