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Meet Bob McCarroll

Written by Stephen Knapp on . Posted in It's Nice To Know You

McCarroll labored in the museum all that summer, getting to know the places and faces of that massive repository, the smell of moldering parchment in his nostrils and ancient dust seeping from his every pore. Come fall he was pleased to receive for his pains a free lunch, plus a largely symbolic honorarium delivered to him by the hand of celebrated Canadian lawyer and statesman Vincent Massey, who, as he shortly discovered, was also the only brother of celebrated Hollywood actor Raymond Massey. It was heady stuff, and thereafter, while his contemporaries spent their free time in leisure pursuits, McCarroll spent his weekends and summers haunting the galleries and laboratories of the Royal Ontario Museum, and his nights dreaming of the secrets still buried beneath antique lands. Then, in high school, his career plans very nearly took a hard left turn.Like all Canadian public school students, McCarroll was required to produce independent research papers on a variety of topics. On the subject of geography, he wrote a solemn and sober exploration of commercial property values in the Toronto suburb of Don Mills, which paper was very well received by Toronto’s real estate community.

“I really had quite an interest in real estate,” McCarroll recalls. “One commercial Realtor told me that when I graduated from high school I should go see him.”

But McCarroll didn’t go see him. 

“I had the museum bug,” he smiles.

He returned to the museum library, and when that huge archive grew too small to contain his talents and energy, he was also granted domain over the attendant planetarium library. And when his interests expanded beyond books and maps and documents, he learned first how to operate the planetarium’s technologically advanced projector, and then to exploit that ability for romantic purposes.

“I could say to the ladies ‘I can show you the moon and stars.’”

Upon graduating from high school, McCarroll’s course veered sharply to the right. He was accepted at Toronto’s York University, where he began honors programs in sociology and psychology with a minor in early childhood education. He excelled at his studies, and prestigious degrees seemed assured.

But McCarroll never finished those degrees.

“It was the museum bug. It’s like a disease.”

Having found somebody else to schlep its books, the museum created a new “apprentice curator” position for its erstwhile intern, giving McCarroll access to workshops and scientists and artists and artifacts never seen in the busy public galleries. It was there in the cloistered bowels of the museum that he became acquainted with a paper conservator in need of an assistant, and discovered a career path worthy of his complete commitment.

“I was apprenticed to him for seven years,” says McCarroll. “I went back to school and studied art history, studio art and chemistry. Conservation is an interesting blend of art and science, and you need both to do it right.”

In 1984, McCarroll was busily conserving in a Canadian museum when the phone rang. It was the University of Denver, looking for a “paper person.” McCarroll turned out to be that person. Working with DU, the Rocky Mountain Regional Conservation Center and the Western Center for the Conservation of Fine Arts, he spent the next five years surveying and conserving art and history across the broad heart of the United States and Canada, along the way enjoying enviable access to rare and obscure treasuries and treasures not available to any but the most highly-credentialed supplicant. It was, quite simply, McCarroll’s dream job, and, like too many good things, it would shortly become history. By 1989, budgetary pressures were rolling back conservation efforts across the region, and McCarroll could read the writing on the papyrus only too well.

“I could see that was all coming to an end, and I wondered what I could do if I couldn’t work as a restorer.”

By way of silver lining, the unfortunate demise of McCarroll’s 25-year conservation career turned out to be a fortunate thing for Evergreen. Reviving his youthful interest in real estate, in 1989 he went back to school to study business management and computer literacy, and, no stranger to starting at the bottom, found a weekend job answering phones at a Coldwell Banker office down the hill. From there, McCarroll’s second career followed a course remarkably like that of his first one.

When the chance arose to answer phones at Coldwell Banker’s Evergreen office in 1992, he took it. By 1996, the able apprentice had become the office’s managing broker, and in 2002 he joined five other brokers in launching Evergreen’s Fuller realty office, a successful venture that became Fuller Sotheby’s in 2008. As it happens, McCarroll credits much of his success at realty to lessons learned as an art conservator.

“I think they dovetail nicely,” he explains. “In art restoration, you have to take your time, study the paper, test it, think about how you want to proceed. That’s the same thought I put into real estate. I think it’s unfortunate that this business has become 24-7. Buyers and sellers are forcing themselves into making some hasty decisions. I try to slow things down a little, to understand the emotions of both buyers and sellers, and to give them time to understand the contract and make the decision that’s best for them.”

While McCarroll remains a Denver resident, in his chest beats the heart of a mountain-area native.

“There’s a lifestyle up here that is Colorado. I can see the Continental Divide every morning on my way to work. I can ride my bike in Elk Meadow on my lunch break. If I’ve had a stressful day, I can be fly-fishing on Clear Creek in 15 minutes. How many places can you work where you can do all that?”

And McCarroll stands behind the Evergreen community like a native, starting with his strong commitment to shopping locally, and continuing with his tireless personal and professional support of local nonprofits. Not surprisingly, the favored target of his kindnesses is the Center for the Arts Evergreen, and his latest efforts on CAE’s behalf are as popular as they are pleasing to the public palate. 

Tapping his connections at Alliance Francaise in Denver – an organization McCarroll began frequenting a few years back in hopes of reinvigorating his fading fluency in French – last June he poured his energy into the first “Art of Wine” fundraiser at CAE’s Bergen Park gallery. It was more than enough to whet local appetites and win an encore performance in September, and three more are already scheduled for next year.

“It’s not stodgy at all, and nobody tries to sell you anything,” McCarroll assures. “It’s really more of a wine education than a wine tasting. It’s very relaxed, and very fun.”

Appropriately enough, last summer McCarroll was named Alliance Francaise’s first-ever Volunteer of the Year for his signal success at raising that organization’s profile within the Denver arts community. This fall, Alliance Francaise and Center for the Arts Evergreen cooperatively nominated McCarroll for the Science and Cultural Facilities District’s prestigious Rex Morgan Award, an honor granted only to those who’ve raised the bar for volunteerism within the district. While the award ultimately went to another, being one of just six nominees was ample recognition for McCarroll, who deems his strong association with the arts its own reward.

It’s not everyone who can satisfy both their boyhood dream and their grown-up one. In a very real way, McCarroll became the dashing archaeologist of his childish imaginings, wresting intriguing prizes from the backs of dusty shelves in half-forgotten vaults. And he became the successful businessman that had bided quietly inside him for so many years. And, perhaps most satisfying of all, he became a valued part of that rare community capable of nurturing and sustaining both of those dreams.

“How many places can you say that about?”