FALMOUTH, Maine — Education was the underlying theme in the long life of Robert Woodbury, a former University of Maine System chancellor, who died at his home Saturday, his wife of 50 years said Sunday. He was 71.
Woodbury started his career as a college professor, and spent his life involved in leading university systems in Maine and Massachusetts and forming international education programs. Then, during his retirement years, he educated the most important people in his life — his grandchildren.
“He was always interested in education,” said his wife, Anne Pelletreau Woodbury, who married him on Aug. 29, 1959. “His father had been a businessman and encouraged his sons to go into service of some kind. All three went into education.
“Education is the foundation of so many things, including international togetherness and reaching out to others to understand each other,” she said.
Robert Woodbury was diagnosed with lymphoma on Jan. 20 and fought a hard battle before the cancer took his life Saturday, his wife said.
Woodbury graduated in 1956 from Belmont Hill School, a boarding school for boys in Belmont, Mass., and went on to Amherst College, where he graduated in 1960.
He earned his doctorate in American studies from Yale University in 1966, and was a professor at the California Institute of Technology before taking a job as a senior administrator at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
He came to Maine in 1979 when he was named president of the University of Southern Maine, where he helped establish the Edmund Muskie Institute of Public Affairs. In 1986, Woodbury became chancellor of the University of Maine System, a post he held until 1993.
“Bob led the University System through some of its most challenging times as well as through some of its most significant accomplishments lifting it up to new levels of enrollment, accessibility, and quality,” UMS Chancellor Richard Pattenaude said in a Sunday e-mail. “In that service, he became one of Maine’s most respected individuals.”
Pattenaude said it was Woodbury who brought him to Maine in 1991 to serve at USM and described him as colleague, friend and mentor. Woodbury was “a remarkable leader, educator, and person. As such, he was greatly admired here in Maine and throughout the nation’s academic community.”
In addition to taking a leadership role with Maine’s seven public universities, he also gave back by being involved with a number of other entities, making him a multifaceted public servant, his son Dick Woodbury of Yarmouth said.
“Getting involved in various committees and boards, in heath care and corrections, in addition to education, made him feel he made a diverse contribution,” he said.
The list of boards his father sat on is a lengthy one, but he always had time for his family, his son said.
“He spent a lot of time being with and being deeply interested in the lives of his family,” Dick Woodbury said. “It was very, very special for all of us.”
His three sons live close to Falmouth, which allowed them to have numerous family dinners together, and Robert Woodbury would always be the center of attention because of his outgoing and engaging personality.
And he never stopped teaching.
“Dad would sit there and educate everybody, and learn,” his son Mark Woodbury said.
One of the key points that his father taught him and his two brothers was how to treat others.
“The amount of respect you give a CEO or an intern should be the same,” Mark Woodbury said. “Everybody deserved the same kind of respect. I think he adored everybody.”
As a grandfather, Robert Woodbury was able to teach his eight grandchildren about the many things that changed in his lifetime, including the acceptance of people who are different.
“He was constantly educating and sharing his experiences with the grandchildren,” his wife said. “It was very special.”
A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday at First Parish Church, 9 Cleaveland St., Brunswick.