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Remembering Bob Sherwood

Ned Groth, Autumn 2006

(This account is based on yearbooks, letters and other documents, and while I have striven for accuracy, I take responsibility for any errors. I would welcome additional submissions by others who remember Bob.)



Bob joined our class at the start of our junior year. He was a “local kid,” from Troy, NY and I remember his father was a minister. He lived up in Ann Lee, and Bill Anthony and John Castellani roomed with him, or maybe next door. John probably knew him best among our classmates, but sadly, John is no longer here to share his memories. I remember Bob, 45 years later, as a quiet guy, with a mordant sense of humor, something of an introvert, and on the serious, rather pious, side. He was in the choir, and its president senior year. He served on the Chapel Committee, and was Chapel Prefect as a senior. He also won the junior religion prize, and a world history prize the same year. He was on the yearbook staff (he was the editor as a senior), and took part as a senior in the Philosophy and Religion Seminar, and, junior year, Rabbi Wright’s Hebrew Club. For those not lucky enough to have experienced the latter group, the Rabbi felt that his “brighter” students were bored by the required (and boring) religion class we all had to take, and I suspect he—Rabbi Wright—was bored by teaching it.  So he resolved to teach about 10 of us to read the Old Testament in Hebrew. We all were required to buy Hebrew bibles—huge things—and we spent a week or so learning the Hebrew alphabet. Then we started reading. We got about through Genesis 1 before it all fell apart. That may have been the only “class” I had with Bob. My Hebrew bible then went in the attic and I never opened it again. Probably sold it at a yard sale 20 years later.



Bob’s gag photo in the yearbook showed him in bed at 8:00, and I do recall he was not a morning person. Like a few other Ann Lee denizens, sometimes he’d barely make it to breakfast, looking as if he’d just rolled out of bed, and he went through more than a few days with a day or two’s growth of beard. Bob was not particularly skilled at or interested in athletics; the only sports the yearbook lists were JV basketball his first year, and recreational skiing his senior year. But he did pretty well in his classes and carried a full portfolio of extracurricular activities, and his “college preparation” at Darrow was successful.

Above, left, the 1961-61 yearbook staff; Bob is second from right in front row.  Right, Bob and Neil van Vorst at work on their masterpiece. Below, the Philosophy and Religion Seminar; Bob’s at the right in the back row.

Above, left, the Chapel Committee, senior year. Right, Bob at the pulpit, perhaps giving his senior talk. For those who don’t recall what the Chapel Committee was (I was among them, until our ’62 yearbook refreshed my memory), the CC collected the offering and helped keep the chapel clean and neat. They took attendance (lurking in the balcony and taking note of empty seats below). This particular chapel committee moved the Shaker benches from the Meeting House to the chapel balcony, perhaps as a Hands to Work project, increasing the seating capacity of the chapel for major events like the Christmas candlelight service. Since we lacked a chaplain during most of our senior year (the unfortunate Reverend Roberts having been John Joline’s first and worst hire, and first fired faculty member), the seniors on the Chapel Committee took on a larger role, rehearsing the juniors who read the daily psalms at chapel services, and as the yearbook (Bob, probably) said, “encouraging among the students an interest and respect towards chapel services.” 

The choir photo, at left, is from our junior year yearbook. Bob’s the one looking away from the camera. Although Bob’s senior yearbook entry says he was president of the choir that year, he didn’t appear in the group photo.

Graduation day arrived, and our class dispersed, most of us headed for college. Bob’s destination was Boston University, where John Castellani, his friend from Troy and Darrow, also enrolled. Bob majored in English Literature at B.U., and was graduated “on schedule” in 1966.

In the years when I was doing the class newsletter, we heard from Bob occasionally. In 1969, I got a letter not from Bob, but from his wife, Amy. She said she was afraid he would procrastinate, so she wrote to bring me up to date. Amy’s maiden name was Hurwitch, and they were married in August of 1967. She had graduated from B.U. with a degree in nursing and was doing research on cystic fibrosis at Boston Children’s Hospital. After B.U., Bob had done a year of graduate school at the Andover Newton Theological School, but when Amy wrote, he was no longer pursuing a graduate degree; instead, he was working in the special collections department at the B.U. library. They were living in Brookline and looking forward to hearing about classmates.

In 1972, Huib Soutendijk reported (to the Newsletter) that he had seen Bob in his travels for the bank he worked for. During our 10th reunion later that year, John Castellani (who was at the reunion) called Bob, to urge him to come join us, but Bob couldn’t make it (and a tropical storm named Agnes was soaking the area that weekend, so I can’t say I blamed him.) Bob was then living in Milton, Massachusetts. Bob and Amy’s marriage ended in divorce, as the NY Times puts it, sometime in the early 1970s; I don’t know the date, or the specifics. But I believe Bob was living with his parents in Milton, where they had moved from Troy, during that period. He was working in a bookstore, in Boston.

Most of the news we had of Bob during this period came through John, who was often in touch with him. John and Jerilyn had a summer place on Cape Cod, and they’d visit with Bob in Boston when they were up there. In 1975, John reported that Bob was still working in the bookstore, and seemed to be enjoying it. In 1979, John and Jerilyn hoped they could entice Bob to visit them at Mount Vernon; Bob’s sister was getting married in Wilmington that summer, and they were looking forward to seeing him.

As time went by, I began to understand that Bob was not well. Once during a Darrow telethon, around the time my own first marriage was dissolving, I reached Bob, and in an attempt to draw him out a little, asked him how he was enjoying being single again. It was the wrong thing to ask; he told me he was still hung up on Amy, wished he could get back together with her, although she had moved on with her life. After that phone contact I never spoke with Bob again. I did get one postcard from him, for the Newsletter, and it had some flavor of the guy we knew at Darrow, simultaneously reverent and irreverent (it is reproduced below). That was in 1982, and at that point Bob was living in Templeton, Massachusetts, and working in a rare books and autographs shop.

Over the next few years, I had indirect news of Bob several times. John Castellani was still in touch with him occasionally, and Bill Anthony mentioned getting a postcard from Bob. The information I pieced together suggested the gradual disintegration of Bob’s mind and personality. As he spiraled down, it was painful not only for Bob himself, but for those he occasionally reached out to for help, including his friends from Darrow. Much of the burden and frustration of trying to help Bob fight off his demons fell upon John and Jerilyn, to whom Bob seems often to have turned when he needed help. But once Denny Hopper answered the doorbell on a dark, rainy night and found Bob, disoriented and needing a place to stay, on his doorstep. The last time anyone in the class saw him, as far as I know, he had dropped in, similarly unexpectedly, at Bill and Joan Anthony’s, in late 1985 or early ‘86. Bill said Bob was sick, unemployed, living on welfare, and had been disowned by his parents. This sort of news never made the class Newsletter, but it made me wish we could keep closer track of Bob.

But that wasn’t possible, and Bob disappeared, soon after that. Neither I nor the school had a valid address or phone number for him, and he was added to the class “lost” list. Lost he was, in pretty much every sense of the word. Eventually, in the early 1990’s, I managed to track down his parents, during yet another Darrow phonathon. I don’t recall whether I spoke to his father or his mother, but they were very brief and unemotional. They told me Bob had passed away, four or five years earlier. When I asked for details, they had nothing further to tell me and quickly ended the conversation. According to the school’s current records, Bob died sometime in 1988. I don’t know how, where, or under what circumstances his death occurred.

The sadness of Bob’s life story brings to mind the old Irish ballad, “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye.” At Darrow, Bob was a hard-working, serious student who didn’t make a lot of friends, and whom most of us knew only casually. He did well academically and seemed headed for a successful life, whatever direction he might choose. After college and an early marriage, this promise started unraveling, as his illness began to assert itself. His marriage dissolved, he moved back in with his parents then lived alone, and worked at a series of undemanding jobs, until he could no longer manage even that. Most of us who knew him and cared about him were too busy with our own lives to take much note of what was happening to Bob, and those of us who did discovered that there was very little we could do to free him from the grip of mental illness. The saddest part of it all is the sense that we were powerless to change the way Bob’s life turned out. We can only miss him, be sorry for all that he and those who loved him suffered through, and hope that wherever he is now, he is at peace.

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