Fodors' Contributor's Death Left A Virtual Absence "Robespierre" was an opinionated and regular contributor to the travel site — until his postings stopped abruptly in July. The contributor had died of cancer. Essayist Henry Alford offers meditation on what it means to lose someone you know only virtually.
NPR logo

Fodors' Contributor's Death Left A Virtual Absence

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Fodors' Contributor's Death Left A Virtual Absence

Fodors' Contributor's Death Left A Virtual Absence

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


All this week, we're remembering some of those who died this year. Today, the story of Robespierre, not the French revolutionary, but a regular and opinionated contributor to the online travel site He never posted under his real name, just Robespierre, until this past summer, when his posts simply stopped. He had died of cancer.

Close to 200 people responded when his obituary was announced in September, some who followed his posts religiously, some who disagreed with him vehemently.

Essayist Henry Alford offers this meditation on what it means to lose someone you didn't really know.

Mr. HENRY ALFORD (Essayist): In the perpetual present tense of the Internet, sometimes, finality rears its ugly head.

Unidentified Man #1: It was a shocker. It leaves a hole. It definitely leaves a hole.

Mr. ALFORD: He's talking about Thomas Pappas, who since 2004 had been posting under the name Robespierre on the travel website

Unidentified Man #1: Yes, Robespierre, the man, the myth, the legend.

Unidentified Woman #1: He was a colorful character.

Unidentified Man #2: And he was also a very blunt person.

Unidentified Man #3: He was better than I at the terse response.

Mr. ALFORD: He once said make your point if you have one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #2: And he did not suffer a fool gladly.

Mr. ALFORD: Robespierre's fellow members, also known as Fodorites, endured his occasional haughtiness because to do so was to find gold.

Unidentified Woman #2: Robespierre saved me a lot of money.

Mr. ALFORD: The Fodorites sought him out for all technical questions from computers to cell phones, at home and abroad. He knew the London bus system. He knew restaurants in Taipei. He loved the beach in Nice and the Marriott in Zurich. Traveling with a bike from Charles de Gaulle?

Unidentified Man #5: You will need this kind of train pass for this and this zone, and you will need this in order to get your bike aboard, and here's a good place to rent bikes.

Unidentified Man #6: He called it the law of watching value. If you don't opt to stay in the city center, like Paris or London or Berlin and so on, you get a much better deal on hotels by going outside, out at the suburbs.

Unidentified Woman #3: I did take a bus that he told me about, which was a lot cheaper than the big tour bus that he hated so much.

Unidentified Man #7: He gave good, solid, detailed advice.

Mr. ALFORD: Robespierre's posts to the Fodors Web site stopped abruptly this past July. Questions started arising.

Mr. REX BICKERS (Member, As they often do for many old-timers or veterans, like has anybody heard from so-and-so lately?

Mr. ALFORD: Member Rex Bickers, who'd once spoken to Robespierre on the phone, made a call.

Mr. BICKERS: I spoke to his wife, and I said: We haven't heard from your husband for a while, and I wonder if I know what that means. She said, I think you do. But it was one of those things that I felt like I knew before I called.

Mr. ALFORD: When Bickers posted the news of Robespierre's death on the Web site, there was an outpouring of grief. They'd never laid eyes on him other than to see the photo of a mustachioed, middle-aged man on his member's profile. Sure, if they'd been reading his posts carefully over the years, they'd know that Robes, as they called him, was agnostic and married and owned a pump-action shotgun and used to be a systems analyst for American Airlines. But in the timeless ether of the Internet, they never imagined that one day, he'd be gone.

Mr. BICKERS: He was one of us. We are a community. And when one of us is gone, we'll miss him.

Mr. ALFORD: Robespierre's posts and member's profile remain up on the site, the somewhat eerie evidence of a life force that's been stilled or a lovely reminder that his friends didn't have to meet him to know that they loved him.

SIEGEL: That story was produced by Wendy Dorr. We heard recollections of Robespierre from Rex Bickers, Chris Little(ph), Pam Moore(ph) and Stuart Tower.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.