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RESTORING the FUTURE

Robert Couch has begun a new project - restoring his life - much like he restored handmade classic cars.

Couch survived treatment for an aggressive brain cancer, anaplastic oligodendroglioma, that was diagnosed three years ago.

The illness caused him to give up his work as "the premiere Morgan sports car restorer in America," which is how many car experts described him. Morgan Motor Company is a family-owned British business established in 1909 that handmakes about 500 cars annually.

Couch's restoration work orders were set for years and he never had to advertise.

"It was six years of work out the door," he said.

"I turned down three separate jobs worth at least $80,000 each."

Now, forced to abandon the work he had a passion for because of fatigue and to qualify for assistance to pay medical bills, Couch lives off savings, Social Security and disability assistance.



Recovery

Couch has a tattooed peace sign on his left hand from what he calls his "hippie days."

As he rubs his head to sooth the healing nerve endings, it flashes like a memory.

"I'm 58, going on about 40," he said, about his health.

Doctors at the University of Washington removed a fist-sized tumor from behind his eye.

A dozen brain scans later, he remains cancer-free.

"I feel the good Lord has carried

me through this. If I didn't have faith in God, I would go crazy."

He has been a Christian for 10

years and through surviving cancer, Couch affirms he wasn't scared.

"I never thought about dying. Someone once asked me what it was like to look death in the face. I told them 'I never took my eyes off the face of hope.'"

Couch said he knew he was going to live because he heard God say, "I'm not through with you."



Morgan beginnings

Couch's bloodline might be filled with motor oil.

He was born into a family of car enthusiasts and his grandfather owned a Chrysler and Saab dealership in Connecticut, where Couch worked as he grew up.

After he graduated from high school, he spent a year in the Air Force before he was medically discharged for bad knees.

He then left with friend Phil Rosette on the first of many trips to England to work on Formula 3 race cars. Bad economic times brought dropped race car sponsorships, a decline in his car import business and failure of his grandfather's dealership.

After that string of bad luck, he met Jack Artley, a rare car collector who hired him to do detailing.

On a later trip to England he found his life's work - a Morgan car parked behind a pub.

Couch bought himself a Morgan to restore, a 1937 Morgan TT nicknamed CAB652 after its license plate.

"I became a woodworker, mechanic and a painter because of that car," he said.

Restored, CAB652 became nationally known with collectors and enthusiasts as it won awards at every competition.

Couch restored two more Morgans in the next few years and became known as one of, if not the best, Morgan re-storer in the United States.



Detour

In addition to restoring, he became a Morgan parts dealer, the only one in America for years.

But he, and his then-wife Sidney wanted a change.

He sold the parts business and they moved to Sequim in 1997 from Millerton, N.Y., to be closer to her parents. He continued to work on cars from his garage-centered home, and his workload remained full until the cancer.

Couch centered himself with hope and faith but he realized he couldn't continue doing restorations.

"In my 20s, I had a burning passion for cars. Now, it's pretty much gone. It was a bittersweet love."



New directions

Even with a clean bill of health, Couch struggles with low energy levels and staying focused so he's found new avenues to explore and inspire himself.

A love of computers led him to create the first parts manual for Morgans on the Web at www.morgan-spares.com.

He also created www.themorganshop.com to focus on his 32 years as a Morgan

restorer. The site hosts his autobiographical journey toward working on the sports cars. Couch sent a copy to TV personality Jay Leno, who called him to speak about cars.

But the future for Couch isn't in the Morgan shell sitting in his garage, a 1959 Morgan 4/4 series 2 that he's not going to restore.

Cancer forced him to get out from under a car, Couch said, and re-evaluate how he can share hope.



Relay for Life

His next big rally is the 24-hour Relay for Life sponsored by the American Cancer Society.

He will hold a Survivors' Camp throughout the relay from noon Saturday, Aug. 1, to 9 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 2, at the Sequim School District athletic field.

He hopes to meet with fellow survivors and discuss their ways of overcoming cancer while being strong support for one another.

Couch also will join in the "Celebrate Life" dance lap at 5:30 p.m., in which anyone is allowed to participate.



Survivors' stories

"As survivors, we all have a story to tell. I hope we can get together and share stories and encourage one another."

Couch coordinates transportation for local residents to see cancer specialists in the Seattle area through the ACS.

Missionaries who discovered his survivor story online have invited him to speak. He plans to visit them as soon as possible while touring the continent sharing his story of faith.

"I've got enough hope," he said, "for the whole world."



Reach Matthew Nash at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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