Bob Church climbed mountains. He scaled peaks in Europe, our western states and even in Nepal. So it is ironic and sad that his death was caused by a fall from steps at his house. When his neighbors found him, Bob was unconscious and had hemorrhaging in his brain. Heroic measures might save his life, doctors said, but not his quality of life. His family gathered at his bedside and made the decision to let him go. Bob would have certainly concurred. He died Jan. 20, 2009.
Bob was born March 27, 1930, in Annapolis Md., where his father was a professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. At Amherst, he was a Phi Delt and majored in the sciences. He wrote in our 50th Reunion book that at Amherst “the science curriculum was superb.”
After college, Bob signed on with American Cyanamid, and later with their affiliate, Lederle Labs, to develop drugs. Bob said in the 50th Reunion book that he worked “ostensibly” for the company since he served two years in the army in Korea and Japan and worked four years for his Ph.D. in chemistry in grad school.
Bob Ireland recounts that he was teaching chemistry at the Univ. of Michigan and was astonished one day to come across an application for graduate work from one Robert F. Church. They had been friends at Amherst. Thus began a happy and productive academic collaboration.
During this period, Bob married his first wife, Betsy. They had three children and settled in Riverside, Conn.
Bob put in a 43-year career with Cyanamid/Lederle where he authored or co-authored 17 research papers and had his name on 19 patents. After retirement, he was called back twice to work on important projects for the company.
In 1988, Bob married Mary Allen, a woman of great charm and unflappable disposition, handy in managing the impetuous Bob. They moved to Cos Cob, Conn. Mary died in 2006.
I got to know them both well on one of the early trips I put together for Amherst alumni to Bangkok and the Indonesian Islands. Our ship called at Komodo, home of the 10-foot, carnivorous Komodo Dragon, a rare animal that fascinated Bob, and on which he became something of an expert.
On one of our trips, we cruised in the Med on a big three-masted sailing ship. One morning the captain announced that anyone who wanted to climb the main mast to the crow’s nest should come forward. Two muscular young men and an old fellow with white hair (Bob, of course) showed up. As the two young men in the crow’s nest were looking down at Bob with skepticism, up the rope ladder he went. He waved down to us. All of us old folk cheered our champion.
Bob was a good citizen of his town. He served eight years as a scoutmaster, six as a town representative and many years as a volunteer at the Greenwich Retired Men’s Association, working with patients in hospitals and nursing homes.
He was active for more than 30 years in community theater, lighting innumerable shows. He also trod the boards, memorably as Erronius in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Bob is survived by two children, Jon and Alison, and two stepchildren, Laura and Ken. His eldest son, Peter ’78, was killed in 1988 in the crash of a small plane he was piloting.
Bob had discussed his “sendoff” at one point with his son, Jon. No religious representative, just lots of friends. An epitaph? Bob had selected an anonymous quote. It’s very much Bob Church.
I don’t want to approach the grave nicely dressed, fingernails trimmed and every hair in place. I want to slide in sideways, out of breath, completely disheveled and in a cloud of dust, loudly proclaiming “Holy mackerel, what a ride!”
—Bill Maloney ’51