Bob Engel, natural world scholar
by John Hayes
Bob Engel, mentor to hundreds of students, friend to countless others, died on January 22 of a brain tumor that was diagnosed in July 2017, just shortly after his wife, Mallory, died. As T. Wilson said, “Throughout Bob’s last months, he remained deeply appreciative of the physicians and nurses who dealt with him. He knew much more about the complexity of what they do than most patients and always told them how impressive they were, even when they had just told him that the prognosis now was ‘weeks, not months.’”
Bob cared about people, but he cared about the natural world more. When we were walking through head-high grass on the African savannah looking for a white rhino, he asked our guide what he planned to do with that rifle. The guide said, “If a rhino charges, I’ll shoot it.” Bob said, “No way. If a rhino charges, shoot me instead.” Bob would have much preferred going that way, rather than have his mind ravaged by a brain tumor.
Besides his brilliant mind, Bob had a well-developed, irreverent, scatological sense of humor. His leukemia, his hepatitis C, and Mallory’s cancer were more than anyone should have to endure, but Bob found a way to put all that in perspective. Many of us were shocked when he told us that he had gotten a tattoo, but it made sense when we found out that it was an image of a scarab, a dung beetle, Li’l Sisyphus, as he said, “rolling a ball of shit uphill.”
When he arrived in fall 1975 as Marlboro’s sole biologist, Bob’s biggest fear was feeling incompetent. He arrived directly from his PhD program at UC Santa Barbara in his VW bus, B-hole, along with his parrots, Dulce and Harold, and Popcorn the dog. His professors had recommended him as someone who knew more about various biology fields than anyone else they knew.
But Bob’s knowing a lot also led him to understand how much he didn’t know. He often related the story of one of his first Plan students, an exasperated Nanda Fleming ’76, marching into his office, hands on hips, after not getting any solid answers on previous visits, asking Bob, “And what is it exactly that you do know?”
Bob’s self-deprecating sense of humor belied the depth of his biological knowledge. He continually astounded us with how much he knew, especially those who had the great good fortune to traipse around the globe with him. He used to sit down during the summer with a state’s “flora”—a thick, dense tome, no pictures, just line drawings—and learn every one of that state’s plants. As many have said, you could set him down anyplace on the planet, and he would do a quick 360 and know exactly where he was.
He never seemed happier than when he was engaged in discussions with people, students or not, about biology or motorcycles or whatever. Despite his astounding repertoire, he would always look you in the eye and want to hear your thoughts. He clearly cared about you. And that attention to you personally, more than any other reason, is why legions of students and others were so profoundly influenced by Bob.
John Hayes is former professor of chemistry and dean of faculty at Marlboro, and retired dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Pacific University. Read more tributes to Bob, and join John, emeritus faculty member T. Wilson, and biology professor Jenny Ramstetter in contributing to Marlboro College in Bob’s memory.
Andrew Hilton, former trustee
A longtime friend of the college and former trustee and board chair, Andrew Hilton died in May. Andy grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, and joined the air force at age 17. After military service he received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, and then his PhD in industrial psychology at Case Western Reserve. Andy had an illustrious career at the Psychological Corporation, Raytheon, ITT, and eventually at Colt Industries, where he worked until his retirement as vice chairman in 1993. He was very proud of his six-month service with the Job Corps in 1965, and was an avid reader, traveler, theater lover, and tennis player.
Larry Smith ’51
A lifelong resident of Winchester, Massachusetts, Lawrence Smith died in April. Larry was a graduate of Winchester High School, and served in the army before being honorably discharged. He studied international affairs and economics at Marlboro, and said in an alumni survey that the “broadened knowledge and social consciousness acquired from the ‘Marlboro Experience’ led me to a happy and productive life.” He served as financial officer for the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute until his retirement. Larry enjoyed participating in local theater productions and was an avid tennis player. He gave years of service to the town of Winchester culminating in his position as chairman of the board of selectman in 1976.
Jonathan Glasby ’55
A resident of Elmhurst, Illinois, Jonathan Glasby III died in January. Jonathan served in the US Army Air Force before he came to Marlboro College, where he studied geology and was the last of several World War II veterans to graduate. He was fond of saying he graduated sixth in his class, of whom there were six. He was employed for many years as a geologist for the United States Geological Survey. In 1999 Jonathan asked biology professor Bob Engel and Allison Turner MS ’99 about acquiring one of the old microscopes used in the 1950s, and was gratified that they turned one up, still in its mahogany case.
Sumner Bennett ’61
A resident of Amherst, New Hampshire, formerly of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Sumner Bennett died in June. Born in New York City, Sumner graduated from Chauncey Hall School, in Boston, and served in the army for two years. At Marlboro he studied science and the history of science and met his future bride, Bridget Gorton ’59, daughter of longtime faculty member Audrey Gorton ’55. He worked for many years as the director of marketing for Allison Acoustics, a consumer electronics manufacturer, and then went on to real estate. In an alumni survey Sumner said his leisure time activities included “whitewater boating, walking, cutting wood, running, and dog brushing.”
Stuart Cawley ’83
Thanks to notification from a fellow alumnus, we learned that Stuart Cawley, a resident of Little Compton, Rhode Island, died in April 2013. Stuart attended Newark Academy, New Jersey, before coming to Marlboro College, where he studied theater and acted in several productions. He went on to work as a talent agent in New York, with clients including Carrol O’Connor, Glenda Jackson, and Stacy Keach. In the 1990s Stuart studied culinary arts at Johnson and Wales University and catering at the Culinary Institute of America, then worked in the restaurant and catering business, including owning the Beachcomber Pub in Westport, Massachusetts.
Markus Brakhan ’86
A resident of Germany, Markus Brakhan passed away in May. Markus grew up in Wilton, Connecticut, and graduated from Marlboro with a Plan in political science and history focused on the concept of “legitimate power” in early modern political thought. Markus earned a JD from Franklin Pierce Law Center, and went on to practice law in Burlington, Vermont, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, before immigrating to Germany. He authored six books, including Too Cubed Unauthorized Vols I-IV. Markus loved skiing, mountain biking, concert going, and swimming, and always had a very green thumb. He is remembered by his closest friends and family for his loyalty, humor, intelligence, passion, and intensity.
Geoffrey Hendricks, friend
The son of founder Walter Hendricks and longtime friend of the college, Geoffrey Hendricks died in his home in New York City, in May. Geoffrey attended the Putney School and received a bachelor’s degree from Amherst College and an art certificate from Cooper Union. He taught art at Rutgers University and received his master’s at Columbia University. A performance artist and member of the Fluxus movement, Geoffrey was known for experimental works ranging from The Flux Divorce to his signature headstands performed all over the world. He was instrumental in the recent establishment of the Poet’s Garden, a contemplative space in the woods behind campus dedicated to his parents.