BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — They had been divorced for years, but Robert Smith Haslam would often make it a point to call his ex-wife, Janis.
Even in his last days, when he was dying from cancer at the Birmingham VA Hospital, Haslam would call Janis. Due to the amount of medication he was on, he’d get his days and nights mixed up, sometimes calling her at 2 or 3 a.m.
“He just wanted to make sure I was okay,” Janis said.
Then, on Aug. 12, Janis got a call from Haslam’s nurse. He was about to die.
“I said ‘Tell him I love him and have a nice journey,” she said.
Haslam, known as “Has” to countless people who poured in and out of Marty’s Bar on Birmingham’s Southside over the years, died Aug. 12. He was 76.
“He never failed to put a smile on my face upon greeting and I know countless others would say the same,” said Chad Fisher, a local musician and trombonist for St. Paul and the Broken Bones, who often played at Marty’s over the years.
Born in Washington DC, Haslam and his family moved to Birmingham in 1959 due to his father’s work. Janis said that after graduating high school, Haslam joined the Army, where he was stationed in Germany as a helicopter mechanic during the Vietnam War. Janis remembers how even in later life, Has’ mechanical knowledge often informed his own decisions on different things, such as flying.
“He would never fly anywhere unless he could check the engine on the plane first,” said Janis, recalling a story he once told about seeing a helicopter go down during his time in the Army.
Haslam’s sister, Kay, recalled that it was during his time in Germany that he found his true calling: working in bars.
“He described the pubs as friendly places where families would get together for pleasant conversation,” Kay said in a statement to CBS 42. “There was no stigma attached or concept of ‘naughtiness’ in those operations, and he thought it would be a great thing to bring that idea back to the States.”
After three years in the Army, Haslam moved back to Birmingham, where he worked at local bars such as Flanagan’s and the Eagle’s Nest, where he met Marty Eagle, who would go on to start Marty’s in 1993. Haslam would be a regular presence at Marty’s, pouring countless drinks over the years for anyone who would come in.
“He wanted to be a bartender and he was good at what he did,” Janis said.
However, after Eagle’s death in 2013, Haslam stopped bartending, picking up side jobs like delivering pizzas. Janis said that losing his friend was too much to take.
“He lost his best friend,” Janis said. “That was pretty rough on him.”
Janis said that in addition to bartending, Haslam loved riding horses and working on cars. But more than that, he loved people.
“He was a good type of person,” she said. “He cared about everyone that came in there and hugged everyone.”
Janis thinks that if there is such thing as Heaven, Haslam and Eagle are together again.
“God knows they’re having a good time,” she said.
A special tribute to Haslam is being held at Club South from 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 27.