Robert J. Belanger, 47, dies from prostate cancer

The last song that Rob Belanger ever heard summed up his life. He was 47.

Robert J. Belanger, a musician, softball coach, church volunteer, sales assistant in an investment management firm and co-founder of a charity that helps pediatric oncology patients, died Friday of prostate cancer at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. He was 47.

"The morning of the day Rob died, our daughters sang to him and played the music he loved," Mr. Belanger's wife, Natasha, said of 15-year-old Carsyn and 11-year-old Addisyn.

"When Rob took his last breath, Chris Tomlin's Christian rock song, 'Good, Good Father,' was playing," she said.

"Rob was a good, good father, and not just in the literal sense. I think about his relationships and how he mentored so many young people without even realizing he was mentoring them, whether it was the people he met in church or while coaching softball. He lived a life of giving, and he just tried to model his behavior after Jesus Christ," Mrs. Belanger said.

"He was extremely charismatic," said Sharon Perfetti, executive director of the Cool Kids Campaign — a foundation Mr. Belanger co-founded.

"When Rob walked into a room, it was always with a huge smile," Ms. Perfetti said. "He knew how to go up to people and connect with them and make them feel like he's known them forever."

Mr. Belanger was the son of Mark Belanger, a standout shortstop for the Baltimore Orioles in the 1960s and 1970s.

After Mark Belanger died of lung cancer in 1998 at age 54, his son and a friend, Chris Federico, organized a celebrity golf tournament to raise funds for cancer research.

A few years later, they met Ms. Perfetti and teamed up with world-champion figure skater Kimmie Meissner to start Cool Kids, which puts together gift packages for young cancer patients and operates social and educational programs for the children and their families.

Ms. Perfetti said one of her favorite memories of Mr. Belanger is of him interviewing young contestants during auditions for the American Girl fashion shows, for which the Cool Kids Campaign held the rights. There Mr. Belanger would be, in the Columbia, Towson or White Marsh malls, scrunching his 6-foot-1 frame to bring himself to the eye level of the girls, some as young as 6.

"The first year after he was diagnosed, we had no idea the kind of pain he was in," Ms. Perfetti said. "He still came out and did the auditions. He'd be crouched down on the mall floor for hours, talking to those little girls."

Mr. Belanger's warm and friendly manner served him well during his career at the investment firm of Brown Advisory, where he was a sales assistant to two brokers. And it served him well in the dugout of the Lutherville Lazers, where he served as the coach for the girls' fast-pitch travel softball team.

"The team would go from the middle of August to the end of July, take a two-week break, and start all over again," Natasha Belanger said. "Some of these kids have been with us for 10 years. There are girls who Rob has coached who won't play for any other team."

Mr. Belanger was born in Baltimore and spent much of his childhood in the Orioles clubhouse. Like his father, he showed immense promise at baseball, and played second base and the outfield into college, earning a bachelor's degree from Towson University in 1992.

"He was an exceptional athlete," Mrs. Belanger said. "He was being scouted. But he injured his shoulder, and the doctors said he'd need surgery if he were going to keep playing. Instead, he decided to pursue his love for music."

In his teens and early 20s, Mr. Belanger was the singer and guitarist for the Baltimore pop-rock band Burst of Silence.

One day, the band was performing at Bohager's nightclub. During a break, Mr. Belanger went to the bar for drinks, turned around, and came eye to eye with Natasha Pomles.

"I looked at her," he once told Ms. Perfetti, "and I just knew that this was the girl I wanted to marry."

The couple wed in 1999.

More recently, Mr. Belanger served as the music director for his church, the Church of the Nativity in Timonium.

"I've known Rob since I was in high school," said Michael Hamilton, 23, of Lutherville, who said he was mentored by Mr. Belanger while he was in the church band.

"He was a phenomenal musician. Sometimes Rob would pick up on these details that nobody else would know to listen for, and he would make sure they were perfect," Mr. Hamilton said. "He was my mentor and role model. He pushed me out of my comfort zone and inspired me to be better."

Last year, Mr. Hamilton said, Mr. Belanger was in Germany seeking treatment for his cancer.

"It was a really dark and lonely experience," Mr. Hamilton said. "While Rob was there, he began writing this song and working on it. He started to come out of the darkness, and he told me he felt the presence of Jesus Christ."

Hamilton said the church band will perform that song at Mr. Belanger's funeral. It's called "The One Who is Love."

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Church of the Nativity, 20 E. Ridgely Road.

In addition to his wife and daughters, Mr. Belanger is survived by his mother, Daryl "Dee" Belanger of Timonium; and a brother, Richard Belanger of Parkville.

mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

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