My friend Bob Ryan has gone to the south. Past Camden, 17 miles away, then Rockland, Waldoboro, and over the low bridge and up the curving hill to Wiscasset, through Bath, then traveling across that giant, green, hooped bridge that ejects you from Maine into Portsmouth, N.H.

On through Massachusetts and finally arriving in Connecticut – where he was proud of escaping from, and swore he would never return to – living in a comfortable, palatial, assisted-living facility with a view of the ocean and Long Island far across the sound. Now that he’s returned, he says the people are nice.

He arrived in Maine 18 years ago, living in Camden for two years before deciding that Belfast was his home.

He loved to frequent taverns for conversation; his typical greeting was, “How are you, Tiger?”

Bob didn’t drink. For a guy who used to drink 3 quarts of vodka a day but now only drinks diet Pepsi, this would be the equivalent of taking the elevator from heaven down into hell, standing next to the devil for company and telling him proudly, “I went to Brown, did you go to Harvard?”

Always wearing his Brown University hat over his white hair, he was a tutor to hundreds of kids over the years. The cars lined up on Commercial Street like planes waiting to take off from Logan Airport. He was passionate about preparing kids for the SATs; he helped them navigate algebra, geometry, and how to own the study habits he learned years ago at Boston Prepatory School from the Jesuits.

He believed implicitly in himself and was able to foster self-confidence in many of the students that came to him. Just ask any of them or their parents.

He saved all his tutoring money for 15 years, paying only in cash for a house and small barn to be built on the loveliest setting out in Thorndike, surrounded by pine trees. His dream was to have his own school; a field of dreams, except it was more like a field of chipmunks, squirrels and woodpeckers. Bob found out quickly why Thoreau went to Walden Pond for solitude. He didn’t go for the crowds.

Bob loved to laugh and would often write jokes down and then hand them over to me for my reaction.

“Bob, this isn’t funny,” I would say. “You’re funny, but the things you say aren’t.”

He would start laughing after handing me one of his priceless jokes. I would stare blankly down at the note and say, “Now I know why all the dogs in Morrill chase your car down the street barking wildly.”

I’m definitely not telling you the punchline.

Bob was fearless in his pursuit of comedy. He would say anything, or do just about anything, to get a laugh.

Nursing a personal grudge against Sen. John Kennedy while he was running for president, Bob once posed as a key aide and was able to convince Boston police to reroute all parking prior to a speech in Boston.

His favorite funny tale was the time he dressed in a New Haven Railroad conductor’s uniform, boarding the train at Grand Central Station for the evening commute home to Connecticut.

Punching tickets and pulling into 125th Street at Harlem on a cold January day, he announced loudly to the packed train car that there was a fire and “everyone is to leave the train immediately walking two by two, like ducks.” And leave they did, with Bob Ryan standing in an empty train car, waving to all the commuters left standing on the platform in the cold.

How can you be that funny and have 50 people hate you all at the same time?

Bob loved Belfast, loved walking across the old bridge every single day. He would sometimes leave on a Sunday to walk the Breakwater in Rockland. Walking comes hard now; his knee hurts, and he lets you know how much.

“Bob, what do they do when you try to escape over the fence?” I ask. “Do they send the dogs after you?”

Without a moment’s hesitation he snaps back, “No, they send my ex-wife after me.”

My friend Bob has gone to the south.

He is living comfortably at The Village at Mariners Point. Write or call this second Poet Laureate of Belfast (right after Bern Porter). Bob loves hearing from old friends. His favorite way of saying goodbye is, “We’ll be talking.”

His address and telephone number are:

The Village at Mariners Point

111 South Shore Drive, Apt. 316

East Haven, CT 06512

(203) 468-8687

 

David Hurley is an artist who lives in Swanville.