Amherst Magazine

Robert M. Powers '88

Robert M. Powers '88 died November 17, 2010.
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Robert (Bobby) Michael Powers ’88 died of a heart attack, November 17, in New York City.  A private service was held in his hometown of Manhasset, N.Y. (Long Island).  He was 45.

I didn’t know Bobby until senior year when we became, suddenly, best friends.  Prior to that, what little we saw or knew of the other was grounds for disdain.  But a housing lottery is providential, and so it was we discovered delight, approval, license, and companionship so unexpectedly, so uproariously.   He wasn’t the suburban slob I took him for, but a habitué of the city and its many mysteries, attractions and dangers.  I must not have been the twit he once thought me.  

Our period of intimacy was intense and brief. It endured the separation that graduation interposes primarily as a benevolent disposition and an agreeable obligation. When we connected in the years since, it was more to memorialize our sojourn in Arcadia than to forge memories anew. Still, it was a beautiful set of anecdotes, recollections and inter-relationships, our time in Amherst with Seligman our cottage, Valentine our sustenance, Carla our comfort and Tia our muse. 

His death reminded me that I knew less about Bobby than I wished to.  He cultivated secrets and mystery, perhaps in reaction to the manifest normalcy of his appearance, his circumstance and his extroverted personality.  I don’t think he ever confided doubt or need or shared a weakness, and this in a setting engineered for such lowering of ego boundaries.  Maybe there were none; or maybe, what was there was so painful, terrifying or debilitating, that it had to be suppressed.  But this is only profitless conjecture in the absence of the person to whom it might have application.

One writes tributes, letters of condolence, and elegies not for the dead, but for the living, ourselves preeminently.   It is how we cope, how we grieve, how we transform loss into an aesthetic object, constructing a surrogate for the absent beloved and an alongside of mourning.   In this way the dead live on and our grief is managed.

I want to believe that his death was preventable, that other outcomes were possible, but I know so little of how he was living and how he died.  Before events which beggar explanation, the acknowledgement of ones inconsequence may be the only rational response.  But if I cannot understand him in death, I may at least celebrate him in his life, for the ability he possessed, the joy he spread and the gifts he gave. 

Bobby, you see, understood my turn of mind and laughed at my jokes; my daily intercourse amused and entertained him. It was as if, in his eyes, I saw evidence of the character I always assumed I was. He made me and others upon whom he rained his attention and affection feel that we were the rare and dazzling ornament to whatever circle or society we frequented.   It was empowering, liberating, enabling and it was addictive.  

He spoke so quickly and so fluently, so articulately, breathlessly, pauselessly and ceaselessly. Above all, he spoke so entertainingly and comically.  He might laugh as he spoke, or choke on hilarity, or sputter with indignation, but the words kept coming and the pleasure in his company defied the claims of bedtime and homework.  He was, by any measure, an extraordinarily gifted linguist.   He was, by any measure, one of the funniest persons I have had the pleasure to know.

He certainly had an ear and a memory and a throat for such work, but what took him farthest, I’d wager, was his social fearlessness. I was awed by how readily he would and often did, talk to anyone, engaging, debating, and sympathizing.   Other people, he understood, were of the same species.  

And yet, he liked the people he liked more than others. No boy or girl friend was every good enough for you, as far as Bobby was concerned.  And that wasn’t just talk; he walked that walk, bristling at new claimants for our attention and time.  It felt exclusive; and given the access he and his super-model sister had to NY, it was glamorous, it was crazy, it was unlike anything this Midwestern extract had ever seen.   Some of my fondest, most memorable memories were made in his company.  He was indefatigable in pursuit of fun, ever amenable to adventure or mischief, always ready for conversation and debate. 

On November 17th of 2010, Bobby’s great heart seized and stopped.  There is an aptness--though too damned soon—to such an exit for such a man.   He is missed. We are diminished.

Ave Atque Vale, my friend,

-Fred Greene ’88
Hollywood, California

 

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