Bob Canfield: From FBI to Knights of Columbus, A Standout Presence

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The license plate said it all: FBI 62.
After his retirement, when Roanoker Bob Canfield arrived on the scene in his colossal Mercury Marquis sedan, there was no mistaking his identity.
From Canfield’s 32-year tenure with the most prestigious law enforcement agency in the country, to his long-running association as an advocate of youth sports and basketball, Canfield assuredly always got his man.
And, his players.
The gregarious Canfield, with the ever-present smile, passed away two days after Christmas, leaving behind an amazing legacy. The father of eight, grandfather of 25, and great-grandfather of nine joined his beloved wife Virginia in Heaven that day. Bob and Virginia had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2008 before her passing the next year.
Canfield was born in Brooklyn, New York before moving to Long Island as a youngster. He attended Niagara University in western New York state and had a stint in the U.S. Army before following the lead of a mentor who pushed Canfield toward what would become a career spanning over three decades with the FBI, beginning, as the license plate noted, in 1962.
“I was born the same year my Dad joined the FBI,” Canfield’s daughter Maureen Rowe recalled last week in an interview with The Roanoke Star. “As a young child, our family didn’t think anything unusual about his job. My Mom might tell us ‘your Dad is going to be on TV tonight.’ We’d watch and sure enough we’d see him during the follow-up of a bank robbery or crime investigation, but we never thought anything about it.”
While Bob’s passion for his job was evident, he also found another undertaking which equally fashioned his personality and desire to promote youth sports; the Knights of Columbus Basketball Tournament held annually at Roanoke Catholic High School.
“The Knights of Columbus Basketball Tournament was a reflection of Bob’s personality,” Tim Rowe, Bob’s son-in-law and Maureen’s husband, noted. “It was important to him to promote youth and to promote the community. Bob was a champion of the underdog. He wanted to give the opportunity to kids who didn’t make a varsity high school team the opportunity to have a varsity experience through this tournament. When it started in 1970 there were 8 teams of 13–15-year-old players.”
“Bob was the perfect promoter,” Tim Rowe added. “Every game had an announcer and every player’s name was announced, not just the starters. There was music during the games. The tournament grew and grew over the years to where it had Little League, Junior League, Pee-Wee and Cheerleading Divisions, plus special One-on-One and Three-on-Three games that were very popular.  And, make no mistake about it, Bob was the Master of getting the community involved. It was incredible. It showed these kids what they could do. Their eyes were wide open with excitement.”
“The tournament was a family affair for us,” Maureen Rowe pointed out. “All eight children and my Mother were involved. We were selling tickets, working the scorer’s table and working the concession stand. My Dad was determined to get it done and he did.”
Long-time area Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Dave Ross had his first association with Canfield after first arriving in Roanoke in 1975 as sports director of WSLS TV-10.
“Bob was already well known around the station for getting great information to the news guys about FBI-related stories,” Ross recalled.
“Bob asked me to cover the Knights of Columbus Tournament which was a special event in those days. He was very involved and wanted to let people know about everything the Knights of Columbus did. I remember those One-on-One tournament contests eventually involved some of the best players in the area.”
After his retirement in 1994, an event that was basically standard procedure after 32 years with the FBI, Bob stayed busy with other projects well known throughout the region. He and Virginia, along with daughter Mary, founded “Christ is Christmas,” a small business that created evangelical greeting cards emphasizing the true meaning of Christmas. One of Bob’s favorite undertakings, the business raised money for charitable needs.
Bob also was heavily involved as an active parishioner of Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church for over half a century as Youth Director, fourth-degree member and Past Grand Master of the Knights of Columbus Council 562. In addition, he directed “The Carousel,” a major fundraiser for Roanoke Catholic Schools from 1970 to 1984. He founded the South City Knights Youth Basketball Program and coached youth basketball and baseball teams for years.
My association with Bob lasted nearly forty years, and assuredly, there was never a dull moment. He asked me to photograph and help promote the KOC Tournaments, which was a no-brainer. After all, I wasn’t about to challenge the FBI.
In his later years, Bob would drop by my office near his home to talk about anything on his mind. I always made sure the red carpet was rolled out because Bob’s stories from the FBI to anything sports-related were fascinating and enjoyable. On one occasion he asked my advice when he was considering buying an enormous recreational vehicle. I asked him if he was sure he wanted to follow through with all the work involved with traveling in a RV, a similar concern noted by Maureen Rowe at the time. But Bob proved us all wrong.
“We thought that RV may just sit in the driveway,” Maureen chuckled. “Instead, he and my Mom ran the tires off that thing, traveling up to Maine and then on trips out west and all over the country. When my Dad set his mind on doing something, it happened.”
Although Bob had ended his youth coaching years earlier, he was a regular figure at Hidden Valley High School varsity games where his grandsons, Tim, Jr. and Daniel Rowe, were starters for Hall of Fame Titan head coach Troy Wells. Wells remembered Bob’s presence very distinctly.
“Tim Rowe was on my first team when I came to Hidden Valley,” Wells noted. “I think Bob was at every game, coaching on the side behind the bench. Bob was a really great fellow. You always got a piece of coaching advice from the moment he entered the gym.”
From the FBI to local youth sports, Bob Canfield was a go-to guy who got things done. And, with a positive lasting impression for everyone he encountered along the way.
Bill Turner