A man of great personal warmth and natural leadership, a dedicated minister with an appreciation for adventure and a strong commitment to the environment, Rev. Robert A. Bryan '49 died on Dec. 12, in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. He was 87.
Rev. Bryan devoted his life to serving the people living along the rugged Quebec-Labrador coast.
Best known for his work as the founder and chairman of the Quebec-Labrador Foundation/Atlantic Center for the Environment, Rev. Bryan logged thousands of miles by aircraft as Archdeacon of the North Shore (Quebec) Anglican Church of Canada in his ministry.
Born and raised in New York, he arrived at Hotchkiss as a prep in 1945, following in the footsteps of his father, James Bryan '11, and brothers James, Class of 1935, and William, Class of 1939. An outgoing boy, young Bryan impressed his classmates as someone eager to serve others. He was a member of the Student Council and St. Luke's Society, and served as secretary and treasurer of his class. He played on varsity teams in track, football and hockey. A teacher wrote of him, "His fine qualities were at once recognized by all: absolute integrity, frankness, generosity, and courage."
After Hotchkiss, he earned a B.A. from Yale University and then a M.Div. from Yale Divinity School in 1957. After serving as an assistant at Christ Church in Cambridge, MA, he returned to the educational world as chaplain at Choate School, serving in that capacity from 1959-1967.
In 1954, he took a canoe trip to northern Quebec and was moved by the wild beauty of that remote area. Then, in the summer of 1960, he found the opportunity to serve the people of that region by taking on an unusual summer job – substituting for vacationing clergy as a missionary pilot in an isolated district of the Anglican Church of Canada's Diocese of Quebec, 900 miles northeast of Quebec City. To reach his pastorate, he had to fly thousands of miles over rugged terrain using skis or floats to land on the stretches of ice and water. His experience that summer would serve him well. He went on to spend five decades as a bush pilot and minister, beginning with the International Grenfell Association, an organization that carries on medical work in northern Newfoundland and Labrador,and later as president and then as chairman of the Quebec-Labrador Foundation (QLF), which he founded in 1961. QLF exists to support the rural communities and environment of eastern Canada and New England. QLF's models for stewardship of natural resources and cultural heritage have been applied worldwide — across international borders in Western Europe, Central and Southeast Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East.
QLF programs are run by school and college students who live and work side by side with members of the communities. Through its scholarship program, QLF has helped more than 1200 young people from the Quebec North Shore, Newfoundland, northern New Brunswick, and Maine.
Rev. Bryan is also known as the coauthor with the late Marshall J. Dodge III of Bert and I ... and Other Stories from Down East and three sequels in this popular folk recording series. Rev. Bryan launched Bert and I with Dodge in part by drawing upon memories of summers during his childhood spent at Tunk Lake in Sullivan, ME, where he was intrigued by the area's stories and storytellers. It was earnings from those record sales in the 1960s that helped him to launch and grow the Quebec-Labrador Foundation.
He later co-authored with Tim Sample the recording, How to Talk Yankee.
And in 2014 he published his autobiography, Robert Bryan: The Flying Parson and the Real Story Behind Bert and I, described by the Maine Sunday Telegram as "an inspiring book about a life well lived."
His memberships included the Diocesan Executive Council, Quebec, the Corporation of the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, and the Atlantic Salmon Federation. In addition to the Hotchkiss Alumni Award in 1986, some of his other honors include the Seaplane Association International Pilot of the Year Award in 1984, and the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council Martin William Souders Memorial Award in 1987. In 1996, he became the first U.S. citizen to receive the L'Ordre du Merite Nord-Cotier, which recognizes individuals who have contributed in an exceptional way to the quality of life of the Quebec North Shore.
He was predeceased by his brothers, James and William, and a cousin, David Bryan '45. He is survived by his wife, the Rev. Dr. Patricia Peacock; three daughters, and nine grandchildren. Other Hotchkiss family members include nephews, James Taylor Bryan '66, James Lafrentz Oelsner '65, Edward Carl Oelsner '60, William Lafrentz Bryan '62, Andrew Bradley Bryan '78, and great nephews, Joseph Henry Bryan '92 and Seth James Bryan Obed '99. An uncle, Benjamin Bryan, was from the Class of 1914.