Bob Bertschy, RIP and Thanks

Bob Bertschy began teaching, coaching, advising, and mentoring at Hyde in 1967. He kept at it for 18 years, departing in 1985 to launch a new career in business. If you were a student, teacher, or parent at Hyde during his tenure, you know the impact he had on thousands of lives.  As a grateful student and fortunate colleague of Bob’s, I don’t know whether to write about his professional contributions to the Hyde community or about his personal contributions to me and others.  He was one of those people where it’s hard to tell where the one ends and the other begins.  Maybe what made him so special is the plain fact that they don’t.

When I think of Bob, a story from my own student days immediately comes into focus. Having spent a couple of years on the end of his basketball bench as a reserve player, I approached him in the fall of my senior year with a rather frank observation: “Coach, you’re not going to play me any more this year than you did last year, are you?”  He responded with a grin, a wink, and a one-word answer: “No.”  Prepared for his answer, I volleyed with a one-sentence proposal: “So, how about letting me be the JV coach this winter?”  He paused, and then replied, “Good idea.”

So, Bob agreed to sit on the bench with me for the first couple of games to see how I did. During those games he sat silently and let me coach the team.  He also let me live and die with the decisions I made.  Then, after a couple of games, he patted me on the shoulder and said, “You don’t need me anymore; the team is yours.”  And so began one of the signature experiences of my Hyde senior year, made possible by a teacher able to think out of the box.

I could probably write the rest of this piece on personal contributions that Bob made to my life. For one, he made chemistry both understandable and interesting at a time when I believed neither was possible.  For another, after my junior year got off to a bad start – Coming off my first summer of total freedom, I was having trouble buckling down to business! – he pulled me into his office, sized me up, dressed me down, and wrapped it all up with an inspiring pep talk.  For yet another, after I graduated, he always encouraged and supported me through the thick and thin of my college athletic career.  I could go on.

Bob’s passing has triggered a collage of memories within me and many others:

  • Back in those days, we had a process where students selected their Advisor. Suffice it to say that there was always a long waiting list for Bob.
  • Students wanted to sit at the Bertschy family table for sit-down dinners. (Today’s Hyde student probably would not believe that we had sit-down dinners every weeknight.)
  • When he swung a bat in our old faculty/student softball games, it was like watching a pro. (Not surprising given that he spent some time in the Dodgers organization.)
  • He was totally believable as a villainous Hell’s Angel dancer in the “Altamont” scene in America’s Spirit.
  • As an artist and dancer, Bob modeled the idea of challenging one’s comfort zone. Walk around the Mansion and you’ll see some of his watercolors. He choreographed and performed some of the signature dances in the America’s Spirit touring program (1976-83). What’s remarkable is the fact that he had done neither of these things prior to joining the Hyde faculty.
  • He further stretched his comfort zone by serving as Director of the Family Learning Center, broadening his advising and mentoring commitment and skills to both include and embrace parents.
  • And he didn’t just talk the talk when it came to parenting at Hyde. He also had five children who attended Hyde – 3 at Bath, 2 at Woodstock.
  • Not only was he a championship coach in numerous sports – basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse, tennis, golf – Bob was an active athlete throughout his life.
  • During my senior football season (1971), I was the long snapper on punts and field goals. And while I don’t recall that we ever actually attempted a field goal, I will long remember those practice sessions when Bob and Ed Legg, our coaches, would compete against each other, continually moving the ball out in five yard increments until only one of them remained in contention. (It was a fun role reversal where the players got to watch the coaches play football!) As I recall, the winner was usually Bob.

Since Bob’s children announced their father’s passing on Facebook, the social media airwaves have lit up with remembrances, sympathies, and appreciation. While legend may be a word that gets thrown around a bit too easily today, when it comes to the individuals who have made an impact on the Hyde community, it’s a word that more than fits Bob.

Bob Bertschy began his Hyde tenure in the coat-and-tie, all-boys era and helped lead us through co-education, the America’s Spirit era, the beginnings of family education, and on into the 80s. While Bob was exemplary in pretty much all that he attempted, what I will probably remember most is his compassion and his willingness of spirit.  Hyde is a place that demands that its students stretch into unfamiliar areas of challenge.  In Bob Bertschy, we were all blessed with a role model who did just that.  Thank you, Bob.  Thank you.  Know that your gift lives on in all of us.  And we will pay it forward.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld