Missing Rich Roat

Rich Roat - image via House Ind.
Image via: House Industries

I only had the pleasure to meet Rich Roat a handful of times, yet like many others I’m profoundly saddened by his death. For the last week I’ve been writing and rewriting some sort of thoughts on him… Generally every version has been very bleak. I have yet to make some sort of tribute that leaves you with a of nice nostalgic feeling (check the links below, many other people have done a great job at this). For me I just think it sucks. This news has left me wracked with two conflicting thoughts: I wish I had known him better, but another stupid part of me is thankful that we were not closer friends (as this would be even harder).

House Industries has always been, and probably always will be my favorite type company. I became aware of them somewhere around 2000-2001 while studying graphic design and their remarkable style clicked with me instantly. Thanks to their beautiful printed type specimens (this was almost pre-internet) I became a super fan of their work.

While I was at the University of Reading in 2007, Rich stopped by for a day. He educated and entertained us with House anecdotes of and advice about the type business. The stories and conversations ran well into the evening, so we moved things to the nearest pub to continue in proper British style. For many of us this day was one of the highlights of our year. And personally, I was already envious of Ben Kiel for working at House, but meeting Rich only made me more jealous. (True fact: until I was spontaneously offered a job at Linotype in Germany, I had imagined to move back to the US to apply to House…)

Over the next several years I had a few more chances to hang out with Rich at various type conferences. He was the sort of person that everyone gravitated to and wanted to spend time with. Public events must have really been exhausting for him. Sadly, I never made the pilgrimage to visit House’s Yorklyn studio, and I’m now regretting that even more. I really must still go someday – sooner rather than later.

House Industries celebrated their 25th anniversary by releasing a massive 400 page retrospective book this last May. It’s called The Process is the Inspiration and it is truly excellent; I’d highly recommend it! I promptly pre-ordered my a few hours after it was online, but living in India, I only received the book a few weeks ago (btw, a huge thank you to my parents for lugging so many new books half way around the world). The House book is the first that I’ve dug into from this new haul.

My plan was to read it slowly, savor it, try to make it last a bit. I limited myself to only looking at 100 pages a day (since easily 3/4 of the pages are pictures, it’s really not that much). The first two days were a joy reading the amusing storytelling that House does so well and admiring the beautiful images from their infinite portfolio. The waking up on day 3, I launched Twitter which proceeded to slap me in the face the news of Rich’s passing. It was devastating. All the memories of hanging out with him came back, and the pleasure I had been getting from the House book was lost. I don’t know how much of the text was directly written by Rich, but much of it sounds like him. It became hard to continue reading – but at the same time I wanted to absorb it all… Somehow it felt like one last conversation with him.

When I opened the book on the third morning, this is where I had left off. It seemed like an oddly profound spread.

Surely the situation of currently reading this book has contributed to the enhanced sense of loss… Had I read it a few months ago maybe it would not be as tough now? Regardless, Rich really was special; he was a truly unforgettable person. And he was only 52! He did so much with his life, and I don’t want to imagine how much more he could have done with more time. This sad fact was emphasized when a few pages into day 3’s reading I hit the section on Ed Rondthaler (another legend who also seemed awesome). He lived a ridiculously long 104 years – exactly twice that of Rich. Damn depressing! But I am happy for Ed.

For the whole week I’ve been preoccupied with thoughts of Rich. So when two classes of students came over for studio visits the last couple days, it only seemed appropriate to enlighten them about House Industries. This new generation of designers was thoroughly impressed and inspired. You can’t get printing like this done anywhere in India!

Hopefully more qualified people will continue to share more proper eulogies and memories. My personal account is mostly to emphasize the point that this amazing man profoundly effected on many of us all around the world – even people he barely knew (and certainly there are others who never met him yet also feel similar). I’m still in shock, and frankly, I’m also shocked about being so shocked. I can barely fathom what his colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family must be feeling.

I wish the best for Rich’s wife and two children, I hope they will all be OK. And the same to everyone currently and formerly of House Industries. I really hope that House can continue being awesome and making the rest of us inspired, jealous, and inadequate feeling for many many more years.

Rich Roat on his bike - image via House Ind.
Image via: House Industries

If you want to see a bit more of Rich, he’s still online. I’d recommend his Typo Berlin talk from this year — but read the book first :) Thank you TYPO for making this video available.

Here is a small collection of other people’s thoughts about Rich – most of which are more upbeat than mine. They just go to show that he was beloved by pretty much everyone he met.

Ben Kiel

Tal Leming

Sonja Knecht

Delaware Online

Velocipede Salon

Bicycling Magazine

Design Within Reach

Heath Ceramics