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Side Effects is a health news service exploring the impacts of place, policy and economics on Americans’ health.

One Year Later, Family Of Southern Indiana's First COVID-19 Case Reflects On His Life

Angi Bostock with a photograph of her father Norbert "Nobby" Bostock.
Bostock Family
Angi Bostock with a photograph of her father Norbert "Nobby" Bostock.

The Bostock sisters are a lively bunch.

They are Angi, Crystal and Melissa. On a beautiful spring day, they sit out in the sun talking about their dad, Norbert, or “Nobby,” to those who knew him.

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

Next to them on a patio table are pictures of Nobby, along with some of his old belongings -- like his badges and work uniforms.

In March of 2020, Nobby became the first known case of COVID-19 in Southern Indiana. After four weeks in the hospital, he died from the disease. He was 77.

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

A year later, they’re planning a more formal goodbye -- a memorial service in Clarksville to honor the long-time police officer and local politician.

Floyd County sits in the hills of southern Indiana, along the Ohio River. Though it’s near Louisville, it has a small-town feel. Some families trace their roots back several generations — the Bostocks are one of them.

Crystal says a trip to the grocery store with Nobby could turn into an all-day ordeal because of the many friends he’d run into. “Like, if they needed a shirt, he would take the shirt off his back and literally give it to you, and then go home and get a new one.”

Put simply, Nobby’s family says he touched thousands of lives. But the family didn’t feel comfortable bringing so many people together early in the pandemic.

That’s why they’re just now planning his memorial service. And why they want it to reflect the way he lived.

Angi says even when he was in the ICU, the family did all they could to lift his spirits. “I made sure that every nurse that I talked to, I was like, ‘Please make him laugh. 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.’"

Melissa says Nobby’s symptoms started with neck pain. Within days, he developed pneumonia and he was admitted to the hospital.

The county health department made the COVID-19 diagnosis public on March 15th. It didn’t reveal Nobby’s name., but it listed several recent high school sports events he had attended to watch family members.

Soon, negative comments about the unnamed patient flooded social media.

Angi says that was heart-breaking. “If they only knew who it was, they would understand that he would never knowingly go somewhere sick. Ever.”

Once Nobby’s identity was made public, those comments stopped, Melissa says. “It was, ‘Oh, I’m sorry that I said this. I didn’t know it was him. Oh my gosh. My prayers.’”

COVID-19 has taken some 13,000 lives in Indiana -- and more than 550,000 across the U.S.

But Nobby was much more than a statistic. His daughters say he was a loving family man. He was funny and had a lot of heart.

They want his public visitation to honor his spirit. It will be held later this month at the Tri-County Shrine Club in Clarksville, where he worked security on bingo nights.

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

“He didn’t want no visitation,” she says. “He didn't want nothing, except a party.”

The music will include a favorite song of his, one that’s perfect for a party: Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup.”

This story was produced by Side Effects Public Media, a news collaborative covering public health.

Copyright 2021 Side Effects Public Media. To see more, visit Side Effects Public Media.


John Boyle
John Boyle is a reporter for WFPL, Louisville's NPR station. He previously spent three years covering Southern Indiana at a local newspaper before transitioning to radio, and has since made appearances on Here & Now and BBC Radio. Prior to his work as a reporter, John worked as a health care consultant at a firm in New York City.