Bob Hinman

Bob Hinman, seen here at a family wedding in the 1990s, was known for his jokes, including one he used so often, and for so long, that his family and friends would finish it for him.

Photo provided by Hinman family

The truth is, Bob Hinman was a serious guy.

He started his working life as an award-winning newspaper writer and then publisher — his father, John, owned a weekly paper based in Pleasantville. And after the family sold the business, Bob became a bank advertising executive.

He also had a part-time job he took very seriously. From 1984 to 1993, Bob was on the City Council in his hometown, Linwood, and he was proud of his accomplishments there.

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But for all that and much more seriousness over 81 years of life, the truth is also that before he died last month, Hinman hardly ever met an old joke he didn’t love. And his family says he didn’t just love his favorite jokes, he abused them.

Take his signature line — please. His daughter, Pam Learn of Ventnor, says that for decades, whenever someone was leaving his house or saying goodbye, her dad would politely ask if he could call them a cab. If he ever got yes for an answer, he’d deliver the classic punchline: “OK, you’re a cab.” But after a while, most of his friends heard that one so many times, they’d finish it for him.

His wife, Joan, was about the only one who wouldn’t play that game — by her best guess, she heard the cab joke “about 100,000 times. ... We’re talking 57 years of marriage,” she says, smiling.

Joan says she played the “straight person” on this long-running comedy team, and Bob used to use a classic comedy reference to describe her:

“He always said I was his Sadie,” Joan says, meaning Henny Youngman’s wife — and the butt of many of that legend’s one-liners.

“Bob would also say, ‘We’ve been married for 57 years, but it seems like just yesterday — and you know what a bad day yesterday was!’” Joan says, grinning again.

But Bob always liked a new audience, too. Any time kids visited the Hinman home, Bob would ask if they’d like a piece of cake. Sure, the kids would always say yes — and Bob would always say, “Oh, sorry, we don’t have any.”

Bob had serious health problems for years — his younger brother, Dick, remembers Bob had trouble with his lungs all the way back to their childhood in Northfield. And it was a progressive lung condition that put Bob in hospice care in March.

Of course, his visiting nurses all got used to his comedy routine, including the goodbye call for the cab. One day in May, his favorite hospice nurse set up the line by saying she had to go — and got no answer.

“She knew it was near the end,” says Bob’s other daughter, Bonnie Sharp, of Somers Point, “when the cab wasn’t on time.”

At his funeral, Learn ended her eulogy by starting her dad’s favorite joke. A few hundred voices finished it for her — “OK, you’re a cab.”

Bob would’ve loved it. Seriously.

A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.

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