Eulogies for Ross
Bryce Leigh Muir:
ROSS WAS A MODEST MAN, AND HE WOULDNT FEEL COMFORTABLE WITH ALL THIS FUSS AND CEREMONY. BUT HE LOVED A GOOD STORY, SO ILL TELL YOU A COUPLE.
Ross Lyle Muir, Jr.
I was a bit jealous of the other kids on the block when I was a young boy. Their fathers came home at 5:30 and had time to play ball with them before the sun set. My father left on the train to New York City every morning at 6:05AM and returned at just before 7 at night. Bedtime for me was at 8PM. Balltime with Dad was a weekend affair.
Over the years I learned the benefits of having an older, wiser, less-athletic father. He dispatched much of his wisdom in his letters. I know that though we have traveled from near and far to be here today, Rosss letters bind us together.
Ive saved those letters, twenty years of letters.
Mostly they contain commentary on the rituals of life: News from friends and family, marriages, births and deaths, the weather, gardening results and automobile repairs. They also contain descriptions of annual rites like Colby reunions and the Abrams Fourth of July party. But also they included that wisdom I mentioned. Advice on the world of work, investing, romance, etc Often he wrote about writing.
In one letter he said, One of the comforting things about writing a letter is that it allows you to talk with someone about whatever interests you at the time without immediate interruption or contradiction. Then there is a reasonable amount of time elapsed before you have to consider the subject again. This allows for thought, an increasingly neglected resource.
While I was preparing to teach a History course to Marines aboard ship he wrote several letters about American History. He emphasized how hard it was to look back and see how challenging life was for the early settlers. In one letter he wrote, If you didnt work, you didnt eat. The same might be said for his years during the Depression and when trying to break into journalism. Another letter described how many times he had to write and
Now I know that persistence was why he was gone until late in the evening when I was a boy. I also learned that fathers teach their sons other things than throwing a ball.
Of writing (or talking, for that matter) about death my father wrote me, Death is definitive. It leaves nothing to say. Well, that may be true. At least we have his letters. And the example of his life.
Ian Hunter Muir
I had thought initially that I would quote from some of my Fathers writings or perhaps to read some tribute from one of the poets who he read and admired. But on reflection, the things that I remember all touch upon my Fathers physical presence.
For in addition, to his great skill with the written word, he had honed his ability to communicate to the point that he could convey realms of thought with a tremendous economy of expression.
Often he needed say nothing at all for the point to come though loud and clear.
Who hadnt been subjected to his quizzical, almost bemused expression, one eyebrow raised when confronted with some surprise or particularly ill-conceived idea.
I can recall when I first started to work in NY I was somewhat of a heavy sleeper and a late riser. When I told Ross I had some concerns about rising to catch the 6:05 train with him he gave me that look and said dryly: Dont worry. I awoke the next morning six inches off the bed with my fathers hands on both shoulders shaking me. He had a slight half smile as if to say, Obviously, no one ever tried the direct approach
And who could forget the playful gleam in Ross eyes when embarking one of his many schemes to tweak us and test the limits of our preconceptions.
Many of you likely saw that look while he was campaigning to get his Alumni class to give to Colby exactly what they never knew they wanted a statue of their Mule mascot.
For those of us in the immediate family, he understood us so well that he could allay our anger with a gentle touch on the shoulder or a wry smile, and he could convey more pride and pleasure with a simple nod of assent than with any speech.
Lately of course he had been chained inside with the onus of the oxygen bottle,But still the calm assurance in his pose spoke volumes about mountains conquered and demons slain. Letting all around him the aura of his confidence and wisdom.
I would still remember him in the pose, which my brother captured in his retirement present. Striding out of a NY city skyscraper with his hat in hand, stepping off with a gladness in his heart---one more challenge conquered and on to new adventures.
I must apologize for not being able to stand before you to say these words, but my emotions drown any such possibility.
Like losing a limb, I feel diminished in a world without Ross.
He has been such a friend and mainstay for more than 65 years. We laughed together, played together, studied together, shared each others lives more deeply than I ever did with a brother.
Ever since those years in high school when we were all idealists Ross was active in the clubs and societies that tried to live by those lofty precepts. We were in the hands of a rare group of exceptionally fine teachers who shaped and guided our lives. He never really departed from those influences.
For years when I was a poverty-stricken art student and he had a secure job, he supported me mentally and practically, always with a deep belief in my work and my goals.
When as a student I suddenly needed a place to stay I met him and he said simply "come live with us" and he and Pam and Leigh as a baby squeezed me in with them in an impossibly tiny apartment on North Brother Island in the East River. There we had fun times that we laughed and talked about right up to the last time I saw him. When I tried to pay my way with what I had - student works - he acted like they were gifts.
Ross was a rock that much of my career was built on. Much of whatever I have achieved I could not have done without his backing and encouragement.
Ross was always there. Even if we lost touch for as much as a year, we would get together again and pick up where we left off.
Many times when he visited us he could see that we were having lean times - the curse of most artists "on the way up" - he would see a painting in my studio he had to have, and insisted on buying it. I knew he really loved those paintings, which made it possible for me to sell them to him. When he wanted a special present for Carolyn, it also turned out to be a paining, and I know she shared his love for my work.
Small in stature, large in heart, he leaves a big void which cannot be filled.
When he mat Lois he immediately embraced her and saw her as the rare person and needed mate to make my life complete. With Carolyn and the boys we simply all felt family.
Not overly impressed with people of fame, when I finally did accomplish a highlight in my career - the White House portrair of Jimmy Carter - Ross' comment was "Herb, you should paint more landscapes - you're so good at it."
Ross had a talent for writing. For most of us it is evidenced only by his brilliant and witty Christmas letters. One of my most treasured possessions ia a sonnet he wrote me for my 70th birthday. I cajoled, begged, teased, pleaded with him to write, but to no avail. He did not have the necessary ego for his pen, as his beloved Keats would put it, "to glean his teeming brain 'til high piled books in charact'ry held like rich garners the full-ripened grain." Instead he believed in what talent I had, and gave me the encouragement that strengthened my resolve.
How fortunate that we had him for so long. How fortunate that he did not die a slow and agonizing death. How fortunate we are to have so many good memories.
And so with heavy hearts we say a fond farewell to dear Ross. Weep for him - weep - those tears are love.
Peggy Rosten Muir
I met Ross and his son Bryce the same night in early 1965 and that experience tells a lot. They were sharing an apartment and that seemed fairly unusual - an 18 year old and a father batching it together in New York! Bryce was having the party and I was one of many girls invited by a mutual friend. I remember sitting with the group in the livingroom and hearing roars of laughter from the bedroom. It was Bryces oldest friend John Henze sharing jokes with Ross. They stayed in there for hours! My first impression of Ross was a man whose company was sought out by his sons friends whom he slayed with laughter.
Ross was always interested in our friends and some of them will be at his funeral because they have genuinely enjoyed his company over the years.
Ross is the parent who gamely traveled to the distant places we have lived, from humid Norfolk Virginia to Jonesport Maine to Norwich England.
Ross was the parent who came to Newfoundland in winter (!) when Seth was born.
Ross and Carolyn were the grandparents at Seths high school soccer games. They were at his high school graduation. Ross and Carolyn manned Bryces booth at the Maine Festival, attended Bryces art shows, and our bands concerts. They dropped in for tea, toured our garden, and were windblown on our boat.
Ross was the father who saw me teach. Ross came to my school to judge my students work, another time he and Carolyn watched my students participate in a regional Mock Trial competition , a third time he came to be interviewed about the Great Depression. He was always interested in my curriculum and the political absurdities in schools. I ask students to read a good biography because Ross thought that was crucial.
Though he twitted me with wry humor about womens lib, Ross applauded my successes and cheered me on.
After Ross and Carolyn had been in Maine for two years, I told a friend that I knew what it was like to have real parents !! We were so lucky to have had Ross and Carolyn near us for the last ten years!
In graduate school I learned that every society has a concept of the good man, a person who embodies all that is considers good and decent and worth emulating. That is Ross.