Oct. 6, 1954 – May 7, 2019
Robert Dennis Liston, known as Bob to his friends and Denny to most of his family, passed away peacefully at home from cancer on May 7, 2019, with his wife Marsha by his side.
Bob was born in Helena, Montana, on October 6, 1954 to Robert C. and Beverly Claire (Francis) Liston. His Helena childhood was filled with family and friends, growing up with many of his cousins, big family dinners at his grandma’s house and hot summer days at the ball field or Canyon Ferry. At the age of 16 he incurred a spinal cord injury that would change the course of his life.
After attending the University of Montana, Bob eventually completed his bachelor’s degree in counseling at Montana State University. He then moved to Michigan for his Masters degree in Rehabilitation Counseling, and it was there he met the love of his life, Marsha Katz. They were married in their Michigan backyard on September 10, 1993. In 1998, Bob brought Marsha back to Montana, where they made Missoula their home.
During his adult years in Montana, Bob owned a Budget Tapes and Records store in Helena where he was known as “Budget Bob,” and for which he was named as Montana’s 1979 Small Businessperson of the Year, an award presented to him by President Jimmy Carter in the Rose Garden at the White House. Bob also spent a year in state government, and represented the Governor at the opening of the wheelchair accessible Trail of the Cedars in Glacier National Park. After returning to Montana in 1998, he served as the Executive Director of both the Coalition of Montanans Concerned with Disability and Montana Fair Housing, and as a Research Associate at the University of Montana Rural Institute.
In Michigan, Bob worked for an Independent Living Center, served on the board of the Fair Housing Council of Washtenaw County, co-founded ADAPT Michigan, and was a department head at the Association for Community Advocacy, a disability rights organization in Ann Arbor where he and Marsha worked together for five years.
Living with a disability meant Bob encountered many physical barriers that prevented access to classes, businesses, the homes of friends, and even the offices of service providers that were supposed to assist people with disabilities. Those barriers, institutionalized discrimination, and the low expectations nearly everyone had about his prospects for the future led Bob to be part of establishing Montana's first Center for Independent Living, and a variety of wheelchair sports teams. In midlife he became an active member of ADAPT, the nation's largest grassroots disability rights activist group, and a charter member of Not Dead Yet, a group that opposes legalizing assisted suicide because of the negative impact on people with disabilities and those who are low income, and the potential for exploitation and abuse of older people by those who stand to profit from their deaths.
Since returning to Montana, Bob served on the State Independent Living Council, was a board member and Board President for Disability Rights Montana, a board member of Summit Independent Living Center, a board member and Vice Chair of the National Fair Housing Alliance, and co-founder of ADAPT Montana.
Bob was predeceased by his father and mother, and a brother (Robert George) and sister (Evelyn Marie), who were stillborn.
In addition to Marsha, Bob is survived by his beloved younger sister Melanie Sue Coughlin and her husband Ed; Marsha’s sons Steve Johnson, of Singapore and Missoula; Christopher Johnson (Tiffany), of Sonoma, CA; and the three granddaughters he absolutely adored - Skylar Gen Johnson, Singapore, and Jaden Rose and Genevieve Grace Johnson, Sonoma. Survivors also include cousins in Montana, Illinois, Louisiana, Oregon and Washington and many friends.
A Celebration of Bob’s Life will occur on Saturday, June 1, from 2-5 pm in the community room of the Garden City Funeral Home on Broadway in Missoula.