Written By Jane Gutsell
In early spring, Robert H. Demaree, Jr. – affectionately known by one and all as “Bob” – sat down with me for lunch in a lovely dining room at Twin Lakes Retirement Community in Burlington for a pleasant visit remembering his time at Greensboro Day School and his impressively busy life since retiring in December 2001.
With a BA in Latin from UNC-Chapel Hill and an MA in Latin from Emory University and
having been Headmaster of Southfield School in Shreveport, Louisiana for seven years, Bob came to the Day School as Upper School Director, succeeding Robert Dobson, in 1985. In addition to those multifarious and demanding responsibilities, for many years he also taught a section of Upper School Latin at a time when all administrators were expected to stay connected personally to the core experience of classroom teaching. Those were years of curriculum and faculty development and steady growth in the student body. Bob fondly remembers “enjoying students and colleagues” during his tenure.
Then in 1994 Bob decided he needed a change. The school then wisely relied on him over the years before his retirement to be the Directors of Financial Aid, College Counseling, Public Relations, and Publications – an impressive range of activities requiring many different skills, all of which he gracefully and successfully managed.
He began writing poetry in the 1980s and his “ little pieces,” as he calls them, have over the years appeared in over 150 periodicals. Early on he published two chapbooks, New Hampshire Pond and Things He Thought He Already Knew. It is no understatement to say that poetry has been since then a central focus of his life. In 2007 Beech River Books, a small independent New England press, began their association with Bob with the publication of Fathers and Teachers. This collection was followed in 2009 by Mileposts, After Labor Day in 2014, and most recently in 2017 Other Ladders. Bob’s poems are suffused with a quiet sense of people and places and time – sometimes ironic, other times subtly wise, and always a pleasure to read. On a personal note, Bob has been an important mentor to me in my poetry writing efforts and unfailing in his encouragement. I hope that many of the readers of this piece will seek out and read his poems.
In addition to these accomplishments, Bob was also asked to write the official history of Greensboro Day School from its beginnings in 1970 to 1995 – Lo, Hearts Behold, an invaluable testament to the vision and mission of the school’s founders and, as Bob’s concludes the history, “a tribute to dreamers.”
Bob and Martha, who have been married 54 years, have two daughters, Virginia and Caroline (a 1987 GDS alumna). Virginia lives in Raleigh and has two children, one attending NC State University and the other a high school senior. Caroline lives in Durham and has college freshmen twins, one in UNC-CH and the other at UCLA, and her third in the 8th grade. When asked if he and Martha had travel plans, he laughingly quoted Henry David Thoreau by saying that they “traveled a great deal” between Twin Lakes and those two nearby cities visiting their daughters and grandchildren.
Their significant travels involve spending June through September at a family cottage on a lake in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Built by his parents in the 1950s, this has been another central place in his life. Many of his poems are set in this serene part of the world. Each summer members of their family spend at least a week or so there kayaking, hiking, swimming, keeping the woods picked up, and attending poetry events. And traveling a bit in the Maritime provinces, he adds.
After moving to Twin Lakes in 2006, Bob has taken on a multitude of responsibilities. He coordinates the community’s Poets Lariats and the Harbor Poetry Club, serves as an editor of the Twin Lakes Literary Review, and organizes spring and fall poetry festivals. He also chairs the Twin Lakes Auxiliary’s Gala Fundraiser, a Scholarship Committee funded by residents, and the Enrichment Committee, which sponsors lectures, field trips to opera performances and art exhibits, and other educational opportunities for residents. In Greensboro, he teaches a winter term course for Shepherd’s Center entitled “Access to Contemporary Poetry.” Again with a typical Bob Demaree smile, when asked if there were things in life that he would like to do and hadn’t yet, he replied that, “for possibly obvious reasons, I have avoided compiling a bucket list.” But he has become quite interested in contemporary novelists, such as Annie Proulx, Sue Miller and the North Carolinian Wiley Cash. He particularly enjoys the work of Richard Ford, whom he calls the best American writing today.
In conclusion, Bob enjoys keeping up with old and dear friends such as David Gilbert. A Bengal basketball fan, he and former U. S. Director Terry Buxton attend at least one game every year. He also felt privileged to have been asked to speak at Bob Satterfield’s retirement celebration in April 2007. Bob affirms that his hope for Greensboro Day School is that it “will be able, as it always has been, to be true to core values in changing and sometimes difficult times.”