Dr. Robert Harper Babcock
Guilderland High School students from the 1950s and ’60s are mourning the death of their revered history teacher, Dr. Robert Harper Babcock.
An emeritus professor of History at the University of Maine, Dr. Babcock died on Feb. 12, 2014 at the Falmouth By the Sea facility from consequences of Parkinson’s disease with Lewy-body dementia, according to an obituary in the Bangor Daily News. He was 82.
Dr. Babcock taught at Guilderland from 1957 to 1966, during which time he and his wife, Rosemary, had five children.
“We only just found out that a very important person in our adolescent period has passed to a better place,” wrote a former student, Bev Harrington, on March 8 in the Bangor Daily News guest book. “We were glad to have had him in our lives and that he thought enough of us to come to our Class of 1961 reunion at Guilderland for our 45th. He was unable to attend our 50th and told us why — which saddened us greatly...He will live on in the lives of those he touched.”
“He had a forever lasting and important impact on me,” wrote another former Guilderland student on March 9, Larry Bandolin, who now lives in Virginia. “I am a history and current-events freak and proud of it because of him.”
“I was one of the fortunate students at Guilderland High School to have had Bob as a teacher,” wrote Alan Lockwood of Buffalo on March 9. “He was one of the most influential teachers I ever had, placing great value on rational thought.”
“I, too, was fortunate to have been a student of Dr. Babcock at Guilderland Central High School and enjoyed my time with him at his visit at our reunion. I will always remember him,” wrote Henry Hedden of Batavia.
“I so enjoyed his Social Studies class — especially the day he brought a Kingston Trio record to class to play ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ to trigger discussion,” wrote Kathy Nohle Moyer from the Class of 1961 on March 10. She also remembered the morning he said, "I think I'm having morning sickness along with my wife."
“Probably their first pregnancy!?” she speculated. “We loved it! What a guy!”
On March 11, William Branick, who lives in Maryland, wrote, “I was one of the fortunate ones to have been in his social studies class all four years at GCHS, and it is difficult to think of any educator at any level who made history come alive as he did. I think my favorite episodes were the segments he did on the Trujillo family from the Dominican Republic. I will miss him greatly. He was a wonderful teacher who deserved to live forever. He will, in my memory.”
Dr. Babcock was born on Dec. 19, 1931 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the only child of Harold Laverne Babcock and Elsie Elizabeth Harper Babcock, of Rochester. His father lost his job during the Great Depression, and the family lived with his mother’s father, Canadian-born Druery Edward Harper.
Dr. Babcock graduated from Irondequoit High School in 1949, and then majored in social studies at the New York State College for Teachers in Albany, completing a baccalaureate degree in 1953 and his master's degree four years later.
During this period, he was also drafted into the United States Army and served two years stateside.
On May 16, 1954, two of his college friends arranged his first date with Rosemary Kirby, of Watertown, N. Y. Six weeks later, the couple became engaged, and a year later, on June 18, 1955, they were married at Sacred Heart Church in Watertown while Dr. Babcock was still in the Army. The next year, he was discharged from active military service, and shortly thereafter he began his teaching career, in Guilderland.
Just before the arrival of their sixth child in late 1966, the family moved to Durham, N.C., so that Dr. Babcock could begin doctoral studies in Canadian-American history at Duke University. In 1970, he received his doctorate from Duke along with membership in Duke's chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.
Then he joined the faculty at Wells College in upstate New York, and, over the next six years, he taught introductory courses in U.S., Black, Latin American, and Canadian history, along with upper-level courses in comparative slavery and American historiography. He was invited by the Class of 1977 to deliver its commencement address.
Dr. Babcock’s doctoral thesis was published by the University of Toronto Press under the title Gompers in Canada: A Study in American Continentalism before the First World War. Shortly thereafter, he was invited to apply for a teaching position at the University of Maine, which at that time had one of the largest and oldest Canadian studies programs in the United States.
A year later, his book received the Albert B. Corey Prize, given jointly by the Canadian Historical Association and the American Historical Association to the best book published in Canadian-American history between 1973 and 1975. In 1975, the Babcocks moved to Bangor, Maine.
Over the following two decades, Dr. Babcock taught both graduate and undergraduate courses in Canadian-American history. He published chapters in seven books, 17 articles, and 46 book reviews as well as a history of U. Maine's Canadian-Studies program published in 2009. He served on the boards of several periodicals and delivered guest lectures on Canadian history at U.S. and Canadian universities.
His passion for Canadian studies was certainly fueled by two life-long factors: his maternal grandfather’s deep Canadian roots, and his own life-long love of hockey, Canada's national sport.
In 1984, Bob and Rosemary Babcock acquired a small cottage near Schoodic Point where he dedicated many a spare moment to walks along the Schoodic section of Acadia National Park.
Besides his beloved wife of 58 years, Dr. Babcock is survived by five children, Ellen Babcock of Albuquerque, N.M. and her companion, Eric Thiese; Margaret Babcock, of Madison, Wis., and her husband, Ric Tedford; Edward (Ted) Babcock, and his companion, Catherine Griffith, of Marblehead, Mass.; Ann Babcock Hanna, of Portland, Maine and her husband, Jim Hanna; James Babcock, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and his wife, Elizabeth Farrington Babcock.
He is also survived by nine grandchildren: Emily Tedford, Samuel Tedford, Olivia Tedford, Katie Hanna-Chase and her husband, Evan Chase, Benjamin Hanna, Henry Babcock, Elijah Babcock, Hanna Babcock, Madeleine Babcock; and one great-grandchild, Maxfield Chase.
His parents died before him, as did son, John Harper Babcock, who died in Bangor in 2005.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Monday, Feb. 17, at Sacred Heart/St. Dominic's Church in Portland. Arrangements were by the Conroy-Tully Crawford Funeral Home, 172 State Street, Portland.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Alzheimer's Association, Maine Chapter, 383 US Route One, Suite 2C, Scarborough, Maine 04074.
— Melissa Hale-Spencer