Deceased January 7, 2012
In the late summer of 1975, as one of the Dorm Advisors in North Dormitory, I had the pleasant responsibility of welcoming Bob Lippa and the other incoming freshman. Now, as one of the many friends he made at Amherst, I have the sad duty of paying a final tribute to him on behalf of the College community.
Unlike the other freshman in North that year, Bob had already been a freshman—having spent a year at Harvard—and he easily adjusted to college life. He was a diligent student, as well as a mature, friendly, and self-possessed individual. He also had a self-deprecating sense of humor, which invited some good-natured ribbing.
First, I never called him “Bob” except in front of his family. To me, and the other denizens of North, he was “Lippa.” And his name was not spoken, but shouted: LLLLLLLLLIPPA! I also would tease him by saying the name of his hometown (Swampscott, Mass.) in an exaggerated Massachusetts-accent: Su-WHOM-P-scawt—popping the P for extra emphasis. And I never said goodbye when we parted. Instead, I would say, “Oh, and Lippa, one more thing…Eat my shorts!”
One would think that a freshman would have found the sophomoric behavior of his Dorm Advisor disconcerting. But Lippa seemed to embrace it. Indeed, many years later, I received a long email from him, which he signed-off as follows:
Hope everything is going well with you and your family. You probably don’t need me to tell you this but, you’re really getting old. Almost time for your 30th.
Eat my shorts,
Really getting old, yes; but, still sophomoric. I laughed till I cried.
We also shared affection for rowing. I was on the Amherst rowing team and during his brief stint at Harvard, Lippa had rowed in the first freshman eight—nicknamed “the Banana Boat”—which was one of the top finishers in the Head of the Charles that year, he proudly told me. Although Lippa did not row for Amherst that year (opting for Track & Field), rowing brought us back together many years later.
After only infrequent communications and get-togethers in the intervening period, in 2005 Lippa got in touch with me to say he had taken up rowing again. That summer, he had rowed in a father-daughter race with his oldest child, Sara, a varsity rower at the Univ. of Virginia and a silver medalist at the 2003 Junior World Championships. His interest in rowing rekindled by that modest outing, he joined the prestigious Fairmount Rowing Association in Philadelphia.
Although he joked that “It only took me 30 years to get back to rowing,” the time in between had been well spent. After Amherst (major: Neuroscience), Bob earned his medical degree from the Univ. of Massachusetts Medical School in 1983. He then began a rewarding career in emergency room medicine and later occupational therapy, first in Massachusetts and then in Philadelphia. Along the way, he married a fellow physician, Carol (Ryan) Lippa, M.D., and they had three wonderful children, Sara, Alex and Adam. Anyone who met them will confirm that his family is charming, and that Bob loved them dearly. They were proud of him, and he of them.
Although his rowing career had resumed in a “tippy” single in 2005, Lippa persisted, and he became a dedicated and successful Masters rower. He rowed daily with the Fairmount Masters program and raced under their flag often in small-boat competition—mostly single and double sculls events. In 2011, Lippa competed in several events at the Masters Nationals in Oklahoma City, winning a gold medal in one.
In a tragic and ironic twist, Bob was stricken by a heart attack during a rowing practice on January 7, 2012. Only in Philadelphia, a city that reveres rowers, would Bob’s obituary bear the headline “Dr. Robert Lippa, 55, Dies While Rowing,” and read like a sports story: “Saturday was an unseasonably warm day, an ideal time to be out on the river …[Dr. Lippa] was stroking one of the quads, a four-man scull, racing against three other boats, when he collapsed …” Like a disbelieving Phillies fan the morning after a late-night, extra-inning loss, I read the obituary over and over again, hoping for a different ending. But it was final.
Rowing is simple: reach, catch, pull, recover; reach, catch, pull, recover … over and over, until the race ends. But that ordinary motion must be done extraordinarily well every stroke. Life is like that, too. Bob did the ordinary things of life extraordinarily well every day, both on and off the water: rowing, career, family, and friends. And he enjoyed it all, as he should have. He may have left us, but he also left us with many wonderful memories, which will remain.
Oh, and Lippa, one more thing … Goodbye, my friend.
Craig C. Reilly ’76