Robert, known by many as “My Mechanic Joe,” which was also the name of his business, died at home after a long battle with myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease, said his wife of nine years, Margaret Clark Robert. He was 52.
The Woodstock resident had been a recognizable figure in Cherokee politics for some time and stepped into the spotlight when he ran — albeit unsuccessfully — for the Republican nomination in the May 20 primary for the District 4 seat on the commission.
Robert’s wife said he appears to have died in his sleep after they had an evening out to dinner Wednesday night.
“We knew there was a possibility he could go into what is called a myasthenic crisis and stop breathing,” she said Thursday, adding he also had heart troubles, but she believed the autoimmune disease, which he was diagnosed with in 2011, took his life.
Margaret Robert said she and her husband married after he proposed high atop a skyline-view restaurant in Las Vegas.
“We’ve just had a really good time,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of great memories.”
She said he was a loving father of two children, Lisa, 30, and John, 28. Robert worked with his son at the auto repair shop in Woodstock.
“Being a father was the main thing Joe always wanted to do with his life. He was excellent at it. Just an awesome dad,” the wife said.
Robert’s friends in the political arena said his health problems were known, because they often kept him from attending events. But they said he rarely talked about them and never let them keep him down.
“He lived with a purpose and a plan,” said Jeff Duncan, former Cherokee GOP chairman. “He didn’t sit and wait for something to happen to him. We could all learn a great deal from Joe.”
Just Saturday, Robert went to a fundraiser at the Cherokee County Aquatic Center. A picture shows him wearing a slight smirk as he prepares to dump a bucket of water over Cherokee GOP Chairman Rick Davies’ head.
Davies said he was saddened by the news Thursday.
“I am devastated, and my heart is heavy today,” Davies said in a statement. “My condolences go out to his family, especially his wife Maggie, his son John and daughter Lisa. Joe will be sorely missed by all who knew him, and he has left a hole in this county and in this country that will be hard to fill.”
Davies said Robert was a “stalwart” in the local Republican Party, a gentleman and a friend to all.
“You would always know when Joe was in the house, as he never needed a microphone to make sure he was heard, and he would always greet you with a hearty handshake and a sincere smile on his face,” Davies said.
Duncan also remembers the handshake.
“He had hands like baseball gloves,” he remembered with a laugh, describing Robert as a larger-than-life presence in personality and physique. “I’ll never forget the first time I shook his hand. I felt like I was back in the preschool days.”
Duncan said he would miss him as a friend and as a man who stood for what was right.
“Joe was a refreshingly simple, straight-up kind of guy,” he said. “He knew what he was about and saw through a lot. He wasn’t interested in politics; Joe was interested in what was best for his county, his country and his kids. He was the kind of guy I wish we had a whole lot more of in this county. We’ve got a lot of politicians playing games. He wasn’t playing games.”
Robert’s friend Franklin Myrick said he was a kind and outgoing man.
“He was the guy that, every time he walked in the room, you knew he was there, because he was smiling and shaking hands. If he saw you he always said hello to you,” Myrick said.
Myrick recalled last Thanksgiving when he saw Robert at church during a meal for members. It was days after Robert had surgery.
“He shouldn’t even have been out,” Myrick said. “He was the one that wasn’t feeling well. But he wanted to know how everybody else was.”
Duncan, who chaired the local GOP for almost three terms, also remembered Robert’s health issues cropping up. He said he told Robert he was concerned about them when he decided to run for the Board of Commissioners.
“I said, ‘You know, do you really need to be running for office?’” Duncan said. “And his attitude was he was living, he was going to do something, he was not just going to sit around and wait for something to happen to him.”