Amherst Magazine

Robert H. Zimmerman '55

Deceased August 11, 2014

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In Memory

Surrounded by family and friends, Bob Zimmerman died Aug. 11, 2014, after a courageous 19-year struggle with cancer.

Bob grew up in Pottsville, Pa., and graduated from its public high school. Freshman year at Amherst he lived in Morrow. He stayed in contact with many friends from that period, including Carl Stearn ’55 and Don Marcus ’55. He joined Phi Delta Theta. Originally Bob planned to transfer to MIT, but he became so intrigued by the humanities that he remained at Amherst, majoring in philosophy and taking many courses in history and English.

After graduation Bob entered the University of Pennsylvania Law School and then practiced real estate law in Philadelphia, first at Morgan, Lewis, where he made partner in 1970, and then Blank, Rome. For the past 20 years, he greatly enjoyed solo practice. He loved the law and was known for his integrity and scholarship.

Bob served on many nonprofit boards, including International Big Brothers/Big Sisters and historical and civic organizations. The Bala Cynwyd Neighborhood Club named him Citizen of the Year in 2014.

Bob loved music. He was an accomplished clarinetist who played at a high level from junior high school through college and studied piano his entire life. He was a devoted officer to the Tempesta di Mare Baroque Orchestra.

Bob was married first to Juliet Goodfriend and then to Judith Zetzel Nathanson, who survive him, as do his brother Barry and his children Erica ’89 and Micah, as well as four grandchildren. All loved and learned much alongside him—from the pleasures of the arts and history to sports and travel. Without lectures or showmanship, Bob demonstrated the joys of lifelong study. He was grateful to the college for launching him.

Classmates of ’55 provided camaraderie during his final months; Bob Herd, Don Marcus and Charlie Pydych attended his funeral.

Don Marcus ’55
Erica Zimmerman ’89

 

50th Reunion

Career: Still practicing law full time, for last 10 years as sole practitioner, previously as partner in large firms. Specialty is real estate law.

Interests: Classical piano, studying with eminent teacher, also studying music theory and harmony; tennis; reading; hiking; traveling.

Biography/Reflection:

On an impersonal level, Amherst was formative, indeed inspiring. I grew up and went to public school in a small town in upstate Pennsylvania, the coal region. It was country side with lovely hills and forests, a great place to ride a bicycle. But the town was unsophisticated and uncultured. My parents, both with great native intelligence, were also unsophisticated.  Neither parent went to college. My father emigrated from Lithuania when he was 12, and went to school for only one year, fourth grade; he then taught himself English. Although first in my class, my only real accomplishment in high school was playing the clarinet. I was a natural, a Ia Malamud. I achieved first chair in the state band and orchestra, without gaining the slightest intellectual knowledge of music. I breezed through high school, Latin being the only course requiring any study, and that not very much. I had no experience with literature. Given that background, Amherst was my first model for what it was to be learned, sophisticated, open minded, tolerant, articulate and to think for myself.  I was also challenged for the first time to do hard intellectual work, a challenge to which I regrettably did not much respond. Among the teachers who made a vivid impression were Benjamin DeMott, Theodore Baird and Bruce Benson.  Benson urged me to major in chemistry.  He was right.  But instead I wallowed in history and philosophy.  At the end, I was not an accomplished student of anything.  But I was left with a model of the Amherst intellectual virtues that later served me in good stead.

Those are some thoughts on an impersonal level.

On a personal level, I look back with less appreciation. Although Amherst was billed as small, and therefore implicitly as caring about the individual student, I found it otherwise. An anecdote will illustrate what I mean. Near the end of my senior year, Dean Bacon called me into his office in Johnson Chapel. Having barely sat myself down in a Windsor chair, he announced, "We are deeply disappointed in your record here. We had high expectations for you. You may leave now."  Indeed I left, stunned. Not because of his evaluation of me, with which I totally agreed. I had entered Amherst as a poorly trained, immature and less than totally confident student. I was leaving in somewhat the same state. But I thought "You son of a bitch!  Why did you wait 'til now to tell me this? If you had told me this earlier, it would have made all the difference."  Expectations are important.  If I had known the College expected that of me, I might have been inspired to try to live up to those expectations.

I can and should be philosophical in reflecting on this episode after the passage of 50 years and a virtual lifetime of experiencing many successes and satisfactions.  I do harbor the hope that the College has in many other instances gone out of its way to seek out and encourage underachieving students in time to make a difference.

I did not rise to the academic challenge of Amherst at the time and an encouraging word might well have been helpful. Yet I do think, read and enjoy literature, work at the low, and perform community service discerningly, and I hope, as Benjamin DeMott would say, with "discrimination". Regardless of Dean Bacon's pessimistic view, my Amherst experience has paid off and has played an immense part in my development. And I am indeed grateful.

 

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