Robert’s Story

Site created on May 21, 2020

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Journal entry by meri kotlas

Robert Shanks, 69, Raleigh NC.  On July 9th, 2020, at his home in Raleigh, NC, with Meri Kotlas, his wife and companion of 42 years by his side, Robert “Bert” Gray Shanks left this world, listening to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Robert spent most of his 69 years of life in pursuit of musical and artistic endeavors. He played in several bands, most notably with Laryat Sam in the late 70s and early 80s, and was a longtime member of StreetHart, the house band at the Longbranch Saloon in Raleigh. He was employed as an industrial designer at Gamil/Design Box in Raleigh, and has his name on several patents. He was a regular patron and participant at the monthly 919Noise concerts in Carrboro, which feature avant garde and electronic music.

Robert was born in Pensacola, Fl. His father, Curtis O’Neal Shanks, was employed by Western Electric. The family moved frequently, finally ending up in Greensboro, NC, where his mother, Loretta Elizabeth Ramsaur Shanks, created a home for him and his older brother, David O’Neal Shanks. He attended Page High School, graduating in 1969.  While in high school, he was a member of the Fifth Chapter, a three-piece rock band which nurtured his love of performing live music. After graduation, Robert continued to pursue a musical career, and hitchhiked across the country, where he saw Jerry Garcia play a pedal steel in San Francisco. He fell in love with the instrument and taught himself to play it. It became his primary instrument for many years, although he also played guitar, flute, saxophone and mandolin.

Robert later attended Wake Tech in Raleigh and received a degree in Computer Technology in 1983. This degree furthered his interest in electronic music; he became the regional warranty repair technician for several brands of synthesizers and keyboards. He later started a repair business, Synthlab, and when Herbie Hancock, one of Bert’s idols, was playing in Raleigh, Bert had an amazing opportunity to repair one of his keyboards.

Robert returned to school in the 1990s and received his degree in Industrial Design in 2001. He went on to work with Gamil Design after graduation and has received recognition for many of the projects he worked on. He continued to work at DesignBox until almost a year before his death from prostate cancer.

Robert is survived by his wife, Meri Kotlas. Other surviving family members are brother David O’Neal Shanks (Becky), Christianburg VA; nieces Amy Keurentjes (Joshua), Redding CA; Kathryn Martin (Isaac), Floyd VA; nephews JD Shanks (Kristie), Salem VA; Stephen Shanks (Nicola), Mancos CO; Gary Shanks, Pound VA; sister-in-law  Carolyn Kotlas, Cary NC; niece, Amy Vitale (Matthew), Cary NC; brother-in-law, John Kotlas (Sheri), Angier NC; nephew Joey Kotlas (Vy), Knightdale NC; and many great nieces and nephews.

Robert also leaves behind a great number of friends, bandmates, and coworkers who loved him dearly for his sense of humor, kind heart and talent. He will be missed. He took up marathon running 10 years ago and completed several half marathons and met some of his best friends through the sport.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his name may be made to the charity of your choice. As a suggestion, Robert loved his cats, so a cat rescue would be appropriate, Safe Haven or the Goat House, for example, and donations to the Prostate Cancer Foundation would help in finding a cure for the disease that took his life. A memorial celebration will be planned in the near future when it is safe to gather.

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