Remembering Robert A. Bryan
29 April 1931 – 12 December 2018
By Larry Morris
Martin Silverstone in his 2015 tribute to Bob Bryan in the Atlantic Salmon Journal quotes Darlene Rogers, a cook at the Gros Mecatina River Salmon Camp in Quebec. Her words describe the extraordinary and life-long relationship that Bob had with the “Coasters” – those men and women living in remote communities along the Quebec Lower North Shore:
We loved him like a favorite uncle. He was a very important man in our part of the world. He dedicated himself to the betterment of life, education, medical help, and the like, to the people of the Lower North Shore. He was ambulance driver, teacher, preacher, lawyer, friend, and everything in between. He was one who mixed his work and his life together and it made a great cake!!!
To those of you in the QLF family – Alumni, friends, colleagues, QLF donors, and everyone he touched along the way — I am going to break my tradition of written eulogies to use instead photographs to tell an amazing story. Use this link for the slideshow. In so doing, and I hope you agree, we can all share in the celebration of a life well-lived, to causes well-served: to people and community; to friends and family; to land stewardship in his beloved State of Maine; to fisheries and wildlife conservation; to the rivers of eastern Canada; to the schools where he taught and coached; to Mike Dodge and the Bert and I legacy; and finally to the organization he founded 60 years ago – the Quebec-Labrador Foundation. There will be plenty of time for others to write about what this man meant to so many — through his own personal contact with them as well as through his organization.
I want to join the chorus of those touched by “The Ven” through countless baptisms, memorial services, and weddings. He ministered to all of us and was always there, year in and year out. My own debt to this man I can never repay and hope only that I have been able to serve QLF faithfully since hired by him back in 1975 as the Director of the Living Rivers Program in Tabusintac, New Brunswick. How far we have come since!
How did I meet Bob, you might ask? A graduate student at Cornell at the time, I was recommended to him by Candace Cochrane, then QLF’s Community Service Director. I was asked to interview for the Living Rivers Program Director position. The LRP would be QLF’s first foray into community-based conservation. My credentials were “thin…very thin.” I knew vaguely of New Brunswick, Canada, because my grandfather, I. J. Harvey, had fished each year for Atlantic Salmon on the Restigouche River. That was pretty much it.
That was enough for Bob. In April 1975, I traveled to New York City to meet QLF’s Founder at the Yale Club for a formal interview. In I went…and then sat in the lobby for an hour waiting for him to appear. When he did not, I assumed I had jotted down the wrong time. Then, in he burst! In a flurry Bob was all apologies – for a meeting that had gone long. Now he was suddenly late for a dinner appointment. He had to make my interview brief. I began my carefully rehearsed opening statement about how much I appreciated the opportunity, etc., etc.. He politely cut me off and immediately changed the conversation to tell me how great the Living Rivers Program would be when it launched the following summer. He was the picture of confidence and enthusiasm, telling me without taking a breath how “perfect” I was for the position. I was hired on the spot without having uttered a word. That’s the way he was. He just knew…
I hope that this story of my hiring prompts a smile as you reflect on your own relationship with this extraordinary man. While I am at it, I should also mention another name, that of Bob’s hero – Sir Wilfred Grenfell – an English missionary doctor and pastor to the people living in fishing outport communities in Newfoundland and Labrador in the early 20th century. A prolific writer, at the conclusion of his best known story, Adrift on an Ice-Pan (1909), Grenfell pens these words:
I had learned on the pan many things but chiefly that the one cause for regret, when we look back on a life which we think is closed forever, will be the fact that we wasted its opportunities.
Seemingly counseled by Grenfell himself, Bob never missed seizing his “opportunities.” His last years were not easy. But his optimism and tenacious love of life never left him. The line of those for whom Bob was role model and friend stretches easily over the horizon. I am very proud to be among them.
Enjoy the slideshow as we celebrate the life and times of The Ven. Robert A. Bryan. I’ll bet we all come away agreeing with Darlene Rogers, a cook in that Quebec salmon camp: Bob Bryan was indeed a man who made a great cake. How much we will miss him.