On November 26, 2018, Roberts (Bob) Walker French died at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He was a scholar, teacher, mountaineer, poet, and mentor to many. He will be greatly missed.
Bob was born in New York City in 1935, to John and Rhoda Walker French. His grandparents were John and Mary Billings French of New York and Woodstock, Vermont, and Roberts and Edna Morse Walker of Scarsdale, New York. He was predeceased by his parents and his step-parents, Frank Teagle Jr. of Woodstock and Eleanor Clark French of Woodstock and New York.
After early schooling in New York and Woodstock, Vermont, Bob attended Dartmouth College (B.A., 1956) and Yale (M.A., 1959). Following service in U.S. Army Intelligence, he attended Brown University, where he received his Ph.D. in 1964. He then taught literature in the Department of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, for 29 years, during which time he received the university’s Distinguished Teaching Award. His publications include numerous poems, reviews and critical articles, most notably on the works of John Milton and Walt Whitman.
Bob married Jennifer Kelley Brennan in 1961 and they had two sons: Roberts Walker French Jr. and Barry Hall French. He is survived by his wife, his sons and their spouses (Nancy Farwell French and Karen Foster French), and four grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister, Mary Corbet Moore of Cheyenne and Tie Siding, Wyoming, and a brother, John French of New York City.
Bob was an active hiker and mountaineer through much of his life. In 1958 he pioneered, with three companions, a now-classic route through the Purcell and Selkirk mountains of British Columbia. Powder magazine called it “a visionary ski traverse; an incredible accomplishment for the era, and decades ahead of its time.” Following that, he started guiding professionally with Exum Mountain Guides in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
After retiring from teaching, Bob remained an avid backpacker and hiker and actively supported the formation of Santa Fe’s Dale Ball Trail System. With his trail miles and editing expertise, he was a contributor to the eighth edition of Day Hikes in the Santa Fe Area. He also maintained his passion for literature and the arts, serving on the board of New Mexico Literary Arts, with the Santa Fe Arts Commission for the selection of the city’s Poet Laureate, writing a regular poetry column for NMCultureNet, and avidly attending every production at the Santa Fe Opera.
This tribute originally was published in the Valley News (New Hampshire).