Photo courtesy of Nancy Furbee.

Even if you don’t like snakes, you had to love Robert Habegger, aka Snakeguy, who died on November 23rd from suspected Covid-19.

The man behind Sharpsburg-based Just Right Spice made gourmet ground pepper blends, Bloody Mary mixes and other hot stuff. He sold his wares at events around town, always with a smile on his face, and a serpent around his neck.

His products have a bite, but his pets don’t (they’re nonvenomous and docile). And, as many Pittsburghers will tell you, Robert was warmly welcomed everywhere he went.

An avid adventurer, he was a regular at Allegheny County Parks and supported numerous organizations such as BikePGH, OpenStreetsPGH and Venture Outdoors.

Nancy Furbee met him through the Friends of North Park – Allegheny County Facebook page, which he managed at one time. He was a wealth of knowledge on the recreational area and was always happy to educate people about the place along with its reptilian residents.

Nancy Furbee, left, with Robert to her right and Sean Brady next to him.

“Robert introduced hundreds, if not thousands, of people to his beloved snakes,” Furbee says. “He seemed to always have a pillowcase of snakes with him wherever he went. He relished the opportunity to help people overcome their fears and actually touch a snake.

And he always stood out in a crowd, she adds. “During gatherings of the Friends of North Park in The Cabin in North Park, we all sat on wooden picnic tables. Robert would walk in with his comfortable camp chair and just make himself at home. I always thought he was the smartest attendee in the room.”

His passion for saving wildlife was well-known. He was the mastermind behind installing the PVC pipe filament receptacles around North Park Lake. They provide anglers with a convenient place to discard their fishing line which, when disposed of improperly, can pose a danger to animals.

Back in 2015, Robert posted on the Friends of North Park Facebook page that a woman had called the police on him for handling his snakes at the park. He got lots of replies in support from people about their positive experiences with him and his snakes.

In response to the comments, Robert posted: “Thank you all for the kind words. It would appear from the comments that many of our paths have crossed. My kids as I call them are nonvenomous, docile and harmless. As the weather begins to be warmer and hopefully this virus gets under control, I’ll be out and about as usual. Looking forward to seeing yinz in the outdoors.”

Robert was extremely informed about the park, says Furbee. “If a member of the page asked a question about a building or a stand of trees or a Trail Pittsburgh project, Robert was always one of the first people to reply. And, more often than not, Robert’s response was spot-on correct!”

Mary Lynn Marsico knew Robert from high school and dated him later in life. She remembers Robert as an avid outdoor person who volunteered everywhere and loved to teach others. “He taught me to kayak and got me involved with Venture Outdoors,” she says.

He would have turned 61 next week, she notes.

Larry Gioia worked with Robert through Connection University, an online networking group. He says his friend was the ultimate connector and community builder who epitomized and modeled the ethos of the community.

On the Connection University Facebook page Gioia wrote:

“He was a hustling entrepreneur and ambassador for countless regional community organizations, with a strong affinity for the outdoors, recreation, beautifying our beloved city, and just being a good human. Underpinning all of this was his passion for giving his time and expertise through volunteering.

“He embodied everything that is this community, everything that is Pittsburgh, everything that it means to be a good neighbor. We can all stand to learn a thing or three from him.” #BeLikeSnakeguy

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.