Dr. Robert Harper Babcock

Posted Feb. 12, 2014, at 6:21 p.m.

PORTLAND AND WONSQUEAK HARBOR – Dr. Robert Harper Babcock, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Maine, died on February 12, 2014 at Falmouth By the Sea from the consequences of Parkinson’s disease with Lewy-body dementia. Born December 19, 1931 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Bob was the only child of Harold Laverne Babcock and Elsie Elizabeth Harper Babcock, of Rochester, NY.

Two years later during the Great Depression, Bob’s father lost his job. The family returned to Rochester, briefly living with their relatives before moving into the home of Bob’s maternal grandfather, Canadian-born Druery Edward Harper. Bob graduated from Irondequoit High School in 1949. He 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 U.S. Army and served two years stateside during the Korean War. On May 16, 1954, two of Bob’s college friends arranged his first date with Rosemary Kirby, of Watertown, New York. Six weeks later the couple became engaged, and a year later (June 18, 1955) they were married at Sacred Heart Church in Watertown (NY) while Bob was still in the army. A year later Bob was discharged from active military service, and shortly thereafter he began his teaching career. From 1957 to 1966 he taught American and Canadian history at Guilderland Central High School in suburban Albany, New York. During this period he and Rosemary had five children. Just before the arrival of their 6th child in late 1966, the family moved to Durham, North Carolina, so that Bob could begin doctoral studies in Canadian-American history at Duke University. Bob had been granted a fellowship from Duke and also hired to teach two sections of U.S. History. 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.

Bob’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 Bob, Rosemary and their children moved to Bangor, Maine. Over the following two decades, Bob taught both graduate and undergraduate courses in Canadian-American history, supervising six master’s theses and ten doctoral dissertations at the graduate level. He also served as chair, assistant chair, or acting chair of the University of Maine Department of History over a period of about eleven years. Besides the Gompers volume Bob 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 acquired considerable editorial expertise while serving on the boards of Labour /Le Travail, (1980-1992), Maine History (1982-2012), and Canadian-American Public Policy (editor, 1991-2004). In addition, he served as an occasional evaluator of manuscripts for Acadiensis, The Canadian Historical Review, and Histoire sociale/Social History. During this period he also received the Distinguished Alumni Award from NYSCT Albany (1977) and a Canadian Studies Senior Fellowship awarded by the Canadian Embassy. Moreover, he delivered guest lectures on topics in Canadian history topics at several 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 Bob’s own life-long love of hockey, Canada’s national sport.

In 1984 Bob and Rosemary acquired a small cottage near Schoodic Point. Henceforward, Bob dedicated many a spare moment to walks along the Schoodic section of Acadia National Park. At various times during the summer months Bob also served on such groups as the Gouldsboro Clinic, the Senior Companion Program, Schoodic Futures, and Schoodic Healthy Communities.

Besides his beloved wife of 58 years, Bob is survived by five children, daughter, Ellen Babcock of Albuquerque, New Mexico and her companion, Eric Thiese; daughter, Margaret Babcock, of Madison, Wisconsin, and her husband, Ric Tedford; son, Edward (Ted) Babcock, and his companion, Catherine Griffith of Marblehead, Massachusetts; daughter, Ann Babcock Hanna, of Portland, Maine and her husband, Jim Hanna; son, James Babcock, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and his wife, Elizabeth Farrington Babcock; and 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. Bob was predeceased by his parents and by one son, John Harper Babcock, who died in Bangor in 2005.

Bob’s family is grateful for the loving care he received from the staff, comfort keepers, at Falmouth by the Sea and Beacon Hospice.

Memorial Contributions can be made in Bob’s memory to the Alzheimer’s Association, Maine Chapter, 383 US Route One, Suite 2C, Scarborough, Maine 04074. Visiting hours will be held from 2-5 p.m. Sunday, February 16th at Conroy-Tully Crawford Funeral Home, 172 State Street, Portland. A 9:00 a.m. Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated on Monday, at Sacred Heart/St. Dominic’s Church, corner of Mellen and Sherman Street, Portland. Online condolences may be expressed to the family at www.ctcrawford.com.

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