Our General: A Tribute to Tomahawk Mayor Bob Lee
By Michael McGovern
Former Tomahawk resident and broadcaster
The General was the most charming man in Lincoln County, and possibly the world.
If Bob had lived in esteemed town-founder William H. Bradley’s era, and it came time to select the first mayor for our beloved hamlet, I’d have kicked Bill off the stage and voted for the General, no question about it.
Nothing beat the General’s laugh. In person, if something quietly funny happened, he’d shoot a stealthy sidelong glance to see if you’d caught it – the beginnings of a mischievous smirk twitching his mustache. Then, if you could really get him giggling, he’d turn red, and redder, dabbing at tears. Bob would actually jiggle, like a bowlful of jelly.
When he mentioned he was often Santa Claus for our town’s children, I recall nodding at him gratefully and telling him, “That’s obscene.” And him just exploding laughing.
But he really was Santa Claus. Every time he strolled into our local radio station was like a little present. He’d bring laughter and chaos, demanding giant boxes of Peanut M&Ms from my joyfully-exasperated boss.
To my apocryphal recollection, the Mayor consumed nothing but Northwoods-style, military-grade cocktails and Twizzlers. It seems obvious in hindsight that if Bob had been fed nothing but movie-candy from birth, he’d still be alive.
As the retired Lincoln County Sheriff, Bob halted most conflicts with a serious-scowled, “Okay, now, settle down now.” Fall Ride mayhem? Wrestling vendetta? All quelled by a stern look. If the General had been around for an “okay now settle down now” in 1804, Alexander Hamilton would still be alive.
I produced the high school wrestling broadcasts for WJJQ for 20 years, which means I played commercials and told the most repulsive jokes I could think of to get the guys to bust up right before they went back on the air.
The General taught me everything I know about Greco-Roman wrestling, which is nothing. I recall phrases like “Russian Arm Bar” or “Backwoods Hammer-Tie.” These moments are pictured as though entered into an AI Image search bar: grimacing, acne-dripping faces, a singlet…way-too-many sweat-covered arms. No idea what’s happening.
A half-dozen times every broadcast, the General would yell, “THERE IT IS!” And then things would simply proceed as normal. Or Gregg – the play-by-play man and station owner – would murmur: “back points.”
Sometimes, however, the General would whoop: “BACK POINTS!” and those back points were worth more? I know on my scorecard they were.
The first words out of Bob’s mouth every pre-meet show were: “No question about it, Gregg!” The intro was of no consequence.
“Think the Hatchets have what it takes today, General?”
“Are we gonna get Heads on the coin toss, Bob?”
“Bob, is the cat alive or dead in Schrodinger’s Box?”
“NO QUESTION ABOUT IT” should be etched on the base of the statue we erect in the Mayor’s honor. Every time the General said it, I shrieked with the joy of the righteous. Meanwhile, Gregg struggled not to laugh on the air, knowing at that moment I’m losing my mind. One time I screamed so loud in the control room I almost scared off the Sammy’s Subs delivery dude.
As his producer – in the mistaken belief that a cleaner broadcast meant a better one – I once mentioned all of this to Bob, while praising him as the greatest, which he was. He took it all in, nodding sagely.
“Yes. That just makes good sense. I’ll do it!”
Grateful I’d shared with him. That’s what a man is: knows he isn’t perfect, and doesn’t pretend to be. That was Bob.
And he did everything just like I said for about 15 seconds. Then he forgot everything and went back to being him, which was way better.
When a big match ended with a victory-pin for the Hatchets, the General would just start bellowing. Straight-hollering, zero play-by-play. Pandemonium.
Listening to a big wrestling broadcast featuring the General was like when they choose a pope. You see the smoke, you know something definitely happened – no question about it – but you’re gonna have to wait a while to find out exactly what.
Moving up from Milwaukee, the only thing I knew about wrestlers was never to get in a fight with one. But when the best Mayor and finest radio station owner in America broke down into puddles of emotion on the air at State in Madison every year, so did I.
Driven wrestlers, eternally sacrificing. Wisconsin Wrestling Hall of Fame-inductee Coach Bob Garrou, Hall of Fame Coach Bob Skubal, legions of dedicated Assistant Coaches, parents, and more toiling in service of greatness – with Gregg and Bob bringing it all home.
Cozying around the radio like in the old days for the big matches. A family. A community waiting, waiting. Did you hear? Did they win?
During State, grandparents would call me from Arizona, Florida, or just down the street sobbing. It’s their grandson’s last year of wrestling, and they’re just glad grandpa could hear it, before he…and he can’t talk right now, but thank you. Tell them – Gregg and Bob – it just meant everything to us.
Therefore, I hereby request that WJJQ’s Gregg Albert and Bob “The General” Lee be considered for immediate honorary induction into the Wisconsin Wrestling Hall of Fame. No one in the Northwoods of Wisconsin could have been finer ambassadors for the sport. They made me a fan. That’s not “good PR,” that’s a miracle.
I simply cannot picture the General alone. In every memory, he’s either with Bev, the love of his life, or Gregg, his long-suffering spouse. And Bob’s either smiling, or he’s about to.
God, what a scoundrel. What a man. I would have voted him Mayor for life. I’m so grateful for the respect he and Bev always paid to me, and the love. Our hearts go out to his family.
God bless our Mayor, our most robust champion, our friend.