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A Year Later, A Funeral For Southern Indiana's First COVID Patient

89.3 WFPL News Louisville · A Year Later, A Funeral For Southern Indiana's First COVID Patient

There isn’t a single best word to describe Norbert “Nobby” Bostock, at least according to his family.

Instead, many come to mind: loving, big-hearted and funny, among others. They said he never passed up an opportunity to help one of his relatives or friends, of which he had many.

“He was just incredible,” said Angi Bostock, one of Nobby’s five children. “He was just always there to help somebody else, always wanted to make people laugh, and always had a smile on his face.”

On a recent spring day, the Bostock siblings, along with their children and grandchildren, gathered to go through Nobby’s belongings. They found pictures of him from his younger days, old work uniforms and other memorabilia.

But Nobby wasn’t with them.

Last March, Nobby became the first known case of COVID-19 in Southern Indiana. After a four-week stint in the hospital, he died from the disease on April 7.

“The last time I saw him, he was in an ICU sitting on his bed, and he looked at me through the glass,” said Melissa Bostock. “He smiled and waved and gave me a thumbs up. And that was the last time I saw my dad alive.”

She said Nobby’s symptoms started with neck pain. He developed a cough the next day, and it got worse as time passed. By the weekend, he was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia.

COVID-19 cases were just starting to emerge throughout the country, so doctors scrambled to confirm their suspicion that he was one of them. The first cases in Indiana and Louisville had been diagnosed just one week earlier.

The medical team and family kept his condition under wraps until they knew for sure. Once the test came back positive, Nobby was isolated in the ICU, away from his family.

Angi said they did all they could to be there for him virtually and lift his spirits.

“I made sure that every nurse that I talked to, I was like, ‘Please make him laugh,’” she said. “’Joke with him. That's what he’d want. Even if it's the corniest joke or whatever, joke with him. That's how he is.’”

The Floyd County Health Department made the diagnosis public March 15, but didn’t reveal Nobby’s name. The subsequent contact tracing effort included a publicized list of everywhere he’d been the previous two weeks. Nobby had seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren, so he’d attended several high school sporting events. 

Negative comments about the unnamed patient flooded social media. Angi said it was heartbreaking.

“The things that were being said were horrible,” she said. “They were saying things like, ‘Why would he be going to all these kids’ events and all this?’ He didn't know. If they only knew who it was, they would understand that he would never knowingly go somewhere sick. Ever.”

Nobby was among the first Hoosiers to be diagnosed with and lost to COVID-19. The virus has taken nearly 13,000 lives in the state since the pandemic started.

But his family said he was much more than a statistic.

He was also a longtime public servant, spending years on the New Albany City Council and decades as a police officer. More recently, he worked security throughout Southern Indiana, including at Caesars Casino, where he was employed at the time of his death.

Nobby’s involvement in the community made him popular. Crystal Bostock, another daughter, said a trip to the grocery store with him could turn into an all-day ordeal because of the many friends he would run into along the way.

“It was something he felt he had to do — to take care of everybody, and if somebody was in need, to give them what they needed,” she said.

But precisely because Nobby knew so many people, the family didn’t feel comfortable gathering them together to honor him early in the pandemic. They’re just now planning his memorial service.

A public visitation will be held from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. on April 23 at the Tri-County Shrine Club in Clarksville, where he worked security on bingo nights. The visitation will continue at 1 p.m. the next day, with a funeral at 3 p.m followed by a private burial service. The public is invited to return to the Shrine Club later that afternoon.

Melissa said her dad wouldn’t want a somber event. Instead, it’ll be a celebration.

“He didn’t want no visitation,” she said. “He didn't want nothing, except a party. And wanted ‘Red Solo Cup’ played. That's all he wanted.”

Melissa said the Floyd County Sheriff will drive Nobby’s ashes to his final resting place after the services. But her plans don’t end there. 

The family also hopes local officials will place a plaque or brick honoring Nobby, either at the City-County government building or the old youth baseball fields in New Albany, which his dad helped build.

Correction: Nortbert Bostock had seven grandchildren and five great grandchildren. The number of each was misstated in a previous version.

John, News Editor for LPM, is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email John at jboyle@lpm.org.