Robert Michel Huggins '57 died peacefully Aug. 14, 2007, surrounded by friends and family at his home in Basking Ridge, NJ. Bob, 71, had been diagnosed about three years ago with an inoperable brain tumor. A memorial service was held Aug. 20 at the Church of St. John on the Mountain in nearby Bernardsville, NJ.
Bob was born Nov. 19, 1935, in Brooklyn, Heights, NY, grew up in Maplewood, NJ, and graduated from Choate School. At Amherst, Bob was a member of Delta Upsilon.
After Amherst, Bob attended Naval Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I. He and Lucile Irene Martel were married June 27, 1959, then moved to Coronado, Calif., where Bob served in the Navy as Lieutenant JG on a tank landing ship. He returned to New Jersey in 1961 and began a four-decade career in primary insurance and, later, reinsurance. He also engaged in reinsurance arbitration and consulting for a number of years.
Bob, an active parishioner and choir member at the Church of St. John on the Mountain, also served in numerous volunteer positions, including two 10-year terms on the Bernards Township Board of Adjustment. He was on the board of Home Sharing of Somerset County, serving as the president and chairman and receiving its Humanitarian Award in 2005.
Family and friends also knew him for his love of the St. Louis Cardinals, Episcopal hymns, operatic tenors, and a fine glass of Irish whiskey. At the memorial service, Bob’s brother-in-law, Leon Martel, who bunked beside Bob when they both attended Officer Candidate School, remembered, “The first thing we in Kilo Company learned about Bob was that he was a lot smarter than the rest of us.” He finished studies quickly, then looked for a card game or a good book. He graduated first in his class of 275 cadets, earning a fine military sword given by the City of Newport. The sword rested on his mantel for the rest of his life.
Leon (through whom Bob met Lu) said, “Bob's brilliance was tempered by a marvelous sense of humor.” He could follow anyone's joke with a better one. “Sometimes these jokes were off-color -- in fact, all the ones I seem to remember were off-color. But with Bob they never sounded that way. They were without malice, without negative judgments, and always very funny.”
A friend, Robert Courtemanche, eulogized Bob as an “irreverent traditional Episcopalian. In fact, he was the most irreverent reverent person I have ever known. His faith ran deep but he never wore it on his sleeve.”
Bob was one of the brightest people I've ever know. It was disconcerting to some of us the way he could consistently pull down such good Amherst grades with seemingly so little work. But I think this impression was a misreading of his abilities. When the crunch times came, the night before (or morning of) a big hour test, you'd find Bob, almost surreptitiously, leafing rapidly through the required reading. He had a keen sense for the often-ribald humor that was a staple of life in the DU house, and reliably answered “tap!” calls to DU's low-brow basement bar where he enthusiastically joined in songs (often composed by his fraternity brothers). Many of Bob's and Lu's most enjoyable days were spent at the family's beachside compound on Nantucket. There, family and friends would enjoy the grand view, spectacular sunsets, Bob's generosity with what he termed “adult beverages,” and his gourmet charcoal-cooked (no propane here) swordfish or steak.
Bob was predeceased by his parents, Edwin V. and Leonora O. Huggins and his sister, Judith Huggins Balfe. Besides Lu, he leaves his daughter, Debbie Huggins Lieberman and her husband Brad of Ellicott City, Md.; his daughter, Carol Huggins Chirico and her husband, Joe of Dover, Mass., and five grandchildren, Jill, Megan and Timothy Lieberman and Matthew and Michael Chirico. He is also survived by his brother, Kenneth Huggins of Rochester, N.Y., and his sister, Janet Huggins Taylor of Bellingham, Washington.
-John Street '57