Robert L. Woodbury '60
Roly Miller's remembrance of Bob Woodbury
I last saw Bob in November 2008. Judy and I were returning from a fishing trip to Western New York with Dick Gernold and we stopped in Amherst to see Dick and Casey Clark. Fortuitously, Bob and Anne Woodbury were visiting the Clarks so we all had a chance to get together for a leisurely lunch at a restaurant in Northampton before Judy and I headed home to Martha’s Vineyard. After lunch, Bob and Anne and Judy and I had a brief moment together where we lamented about Dick’s recent cancer diagnosis. Bob seemed to be in pretty good health and his main concern was selling their home in Harpswell, as they were about ready to move into a new home closer to their kids in Falmouth, Maine, and they didn’t want to carry the expense of two houses. Blessedly, they did sell the Harpswell house shortly thereafter but they also learned in January 2009 that Bob had mantle cell lymphoma, a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Over the next six months, he received four different chemical treatments but nothing worked and he died on September 12, 2009.
In August, a month before Bob died, Dick Clark, his long-time friend, Amherst roommate, and later colleague, lost his battle with cancer. Bob was determined to attend Dick’s memorial service and he had prepared a piece based on his 55 year friendship with Dick and the Clark family. Unfortunately, an infection and high fever prevented Bob from making the trip from Maine to Amherst but Anne came to the service to stand in ably for Bob.
Bob and I roomed together in Chi Psi our junior year along with Charlie Hosford and Dick Gernold. It was clear to me that Bob was one of the academic stars of our class but he was also a regular guy—upbeat, funny, and a keen observer of life around him. He was also in love with his childhood sweetheart, Anne Pelletreau, and they spent nearly every weekend together that year either in Amherst or Boston, where Annie attended Wheelock College. They announced their engagement on February 19, Annie’s birthday, and were married in August 1959 on Cape Cod near where they had both spent summers. Bob and Anne celebrated their 50th anniversary two weeks before Bob’s death.
Like many of us, when Bob graduated from Amherst, he went right to graduate school, enrolling in a PhD program at Yale as a Woodrow Wilson Scholar. An American Studies major at Amherst, Bob continued his work in American History with a special interest in the Progressive Era. His dissertation was titled, “William Kent, Progressive Gadfly.” In 1964, he left Yale and--at the ripe age of 26--was appointed to the faculty at the California Institute of Technology. The piece Bob submitted for this 50th Reunion book talks about his work at Caltech.
But Bob was committed to public service and, in 1968, he began a career in public higher education, first as a senior administrator at UMass/Amherst (where he and Dick Clark worked together for a decade). Bob then became President of the University of Southern Maine from 1979-1986 where he used his unique ability to bring people together in a collaborative spirit to combine the two campuses which had been merged to create USM.
In 1986, Bob was appointed as Chancellor of the University of Maine system, a post he held until 1993. According to Richard Pattenaude, the current UMaine Chancellor, “Bob led the university system through some of its most challenging times as well as through some of its most significant accomplishments lifting it up to new levels of enrollment, accessibility, and quality. In that service, he became one of Maine’s most respected individuals. He was greatly admired here in Maine and throughout the nation’s academic community.”
After “retiring” from the Chancellorship in 1993, Bob continued to show his passion for and commitment to public service. He served on the board of an English-speaking liberal arts college in Bulgaria, a school he had been instrumental in founding during his Chancellorship. He also headed two policy institutes: the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine and the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at UMass/Boston (where he played a role in bringing Dick Clark to the school as Dean of the Graduate School of Education). In Maine, several governors asked him to serve on a number of public commissions dealing with health, prisons, and public schools, and he also played an active role on two non-profit boards: the Maine Community Foundation and the Council on International Educational Exchange.
Amid these leadership roles, Bob ran for governor. At Bob’s memorial service, Meredith Jones, a long-time friend and his fund-raiser during the gubernatorial campaign, commented on Bob Woodbury, the candidate:
"I learned that most politicians have a public and private persona – the person in front of the camera is rarely identical to the off-camera version. Bob, ever the academic in his blue, oxford cloth, button-down collar shirt, was probably too deep in thought to know there could be a difference. When it was suggested that he might engage in tame 'dirty tricks' to boost his poll numbers, he declined. Most importantly, the off-camera candidate was as smart, genuine, kind, thoughtful, and considerate as the on-camera version. A little more rumpled maybe, and a little more prone to forgetting to click off the ballpoint pen that dangled dangerously next to his forehead, resulting in ink-stained temples. But still the same guy.
The remembrances from Bob’s memorial service, and the numerous newspaper articles on Bob’s contributions, all spoke of Bob’s dynamic personality. His son, Dick, described his father as “…optimistic, completely engaged in the world around him, and deeply attentive to whomever he was with. Dad’s energy and optimism were contagious.” Dick also spoke about his father’s deeply held core values: “social justice, fairness, and a belief that good education should not be reserved for families with money only.” And Bob was passionate about most everything he did. As his brother Jack said, “Bob didn’t come to this world to sit on the sidelines; he came to play.”
Finally, Bob’s family was as important to him as his career in public service. Throughout his life, he remained close to his brothers, Ron and Jack. Bob and Anne’s three sons—Dick, Mark and Jack—all live within 10 miles of the Woodbury home in Falmouth and Bob remained an important part of their lives through adulthood. At the service, Dick Woodbury commented, “Dad was my mentor throughout my life…my closest advisor.” Forever a teacher, Bob passed on important core values to his sons: “He taught us how to treat others,” Mark said. “Everybody deserved the same amount of respect.” In retirement, Bob’s eight grandchildren were a source of great pride and he found time to attend their sporting and school events, often showing up early, according to grandson Matthew. “That was Dad,” Dick Woodbury observed, “completely engaged and never wanting to miss a second of the action.” Most of all, Bob adored Annie, his wife for 50 years. Dick described their marriage as “a true partnership… a model of love, fulfillment, and joy.” We shall miss him.
Robert Louis Woodbury
Bob Woodbury died of lymphoma on September 12, 2009 at his home in Falmouth, Maine, surrounded by his family. The disease was diagnosed in January, not long after Bob’s close friend and classmate, Dick Clark, learned that he had lung cancer. For the last few months of their lives, they talked with each other on the phone every day, sharing memories of their days together at Belmont Hill, Amherst, and afterward; their families were exceptionally close, and often shared vacations together.
A celebration of Bob’s life, held in Brunswick a few days after his death, was attended by several hundred of Bob’s friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family. In eulogizing his Dad, Bob’s oldest son, Dick, spoke eloquently of Bob’s essential qualities: “an engaging personality, deeply held core values and sense of life mission, immense energy, and profound generosity.” Bob was “optimistic, completely engaged with the world around him, unwaveringly positive, and deeply attentive to whoever he was with.”
Dick spoke also of “the strength of [Bob’s] values and his sense of life purpose. [His] defining beliefs were in social justice, fairness, and equalization of opportunity in a world that gives so many advantages to those with means.” He deliberately chose a career in public higher education because it gave him “his best shot at contributing to the world in a way that most advanced his core values about what the world should be.” Those contributions, including his service as a Trustee of Amherst College, were indeed enormous.
Nevertheless, Dick concluded, “of all his accomplishments, [Bob] was most proud of his wife and family,” a pride and love clearly reciprocated by Annie, their three sons Dick, Mark, and Jack (Amherst ’88) and their wives, and their eight grandchildren. His loss has left a great hole in their, and our, lives.