Amherst Magazine

Robert E. Pruyne '56

Robert E. Pruyne '56 died October 7, 2010.
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ROBERT ELLIS PRUYNE

I first saw Bob Pruyne’s angular face and endearing grin in early September 1952. He and I were hall-mates in Stearns dormitory. We all took an instant liking to Bob’s roomie, Dick Belden, a terrific guy who could not resist an invitation to substitute play for work. With Bob, my liking took a little longer, but not much—witness the fact that we went on to room together for three years. The happy-go-lucky “Beldo” lasted less than a year, but Pruyne lasted and lasted. He became more synonymous with Amherst than anyone in the Class of `56.

In retrospect, I should have expected that. His father, L. Sumner Pruyne, was Class of `21; his brother, David, Class of `54. When it came time for his own children to attend college, he sent two of them to Amherst—Alison now-Gorman ’82 and Stephen ’87. And when he decided to donate a sizable chunk of the money he went on to make as an investment counselor, Amherst was high on his agenda.

In addition, he amassed quite a list of activities and honors. He played lacrosse, managed the swimming team, literary magazine, and Managerial Association; chaired Mardi Gras and Community Chest (fundraising efforts of that era); worked on the prom committee and for The Student; and was elected to Sphinx.

But Bob the student—an economics major—was no rah-rah Jeff. He was basically a friendly, modest guy who played Big Man on Campus in a low key. His name frequently turned up in The Student, however, so you knew he was “doing things” but had little idea how many or how important they were. What you did know, if you took time to think about it, was that by senior—maybe junior—year, he might well have been the best-known, best-liked guy in the entire class.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see him striding the campus, a slim figure in a windbreaker and a Sphinx hat with the front of the brim turned down. He had a pleasant word for and about everybody, and when he’d later recount to me a few conversations of that day, the recounting would often start with, “Hey, Bob, how are you?” People did greet him that way. They knew that if he wasn’t actually quite a friend, he was something close to it—and probably would be one if needed.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, one of the things that drew me to Bob was the easy manner in which he bridged—in fact obliterated—the differences in background between himself and me and other public high school kids. He was Old Amherst, Old New England, something close to Brahminesque in terms of his affluent Boston suburb, a Philips Exeter grad (the college enrolled lots of them back then) fully at home academically and culturally at a school like Amherst. Yet there was never even a hint of superiority in anything Bob said to me or about anyone else.

Only a few weeks after graduation, Bob married his college sweetheart, Carolyn Mock of Wellesley. Their marriage endured, happily and productively, until his death 54 years later. So did their residence—the only one they ever shared--at 19 Priscilla Rd. in Wellesley Hills.

There was a third major “only”—his employer. After getting a master’s degree in economics from Princeton, Bob became a summer intern at the Boston investment firm of Scudder, Stevens and Clark. He then joined Scudder’s bond department fulltime and moved gradually upward to become, in 1985, Managing Director—Bonds. He retired in 1995.

But a shadow encroached with relentless force. In the mid-`90s, Bob contracted Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), a degenerative neurological disease similar to Parkinson’s. He fought back tenaciously. He continued playing tennis and skiing, his two favorite post-college sports, and tended to his children and grandchildren with all the energy and devotion he could muster. He also kept up as best he could with a bunch of community activities, including even square dancing. And he doggedly pursued his deeply felt commitment to Amherst.

That meant traveling westward—even if in a wheelchair—for all sorts of college and class events; from that chair, Bob listened attentively and smiled often throughout our 50th reunion. It also meant increasing his commitment to Amherst. That commitment also materialized in the Pruyne Lecture Hall, the swimming pool deck, Dunbar Gallery and the Pruyne Family Scholarship Fund. The fund supports juniors and seniors who have “combined academic strength with demonstrated positive interpersonal skills and leadership qualities….” It would be difficult to write a better description of Bob Pruyne himself as an Amherst student.

“What’s noteworthy to me,” says Tom Ehrgood of the alumni office “is that Bob and Carolyn were so extraordinarily loyal to Amherst. They seemed to come on special occasions of all sorts. They loved Amherst and kept on coming, ignoring the complications of Bob’s mobility restrictions.”

In addition to Alison and Stephen, Bob and Carolyn have a daughter, Jennifer Pruyne Cahill. A third daughter, Laura Pruyne Smith, died in 1999. In addition, they have eight grandchildren.

At the service held for him, Bob came into the church to the sounds of “The Senior Song” and left to those of ”Lord Jeffrey Amherst.” Notes Carolyn, “This was his request.”

 —Roger M. Williams

 

 

 

 

 

 

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