BATH - Robert Bridgham Bussey, 68, a prominent educator and local businessman, died Aug. 19, 2012, at his home, after a courageous 12-year battle with A.L.S. Born Jan. 26, 1944, in Gadsen, Ala., he was the first-born child of Janet Bridgham Bussey and attorney Lynn MacPherson Bussey.
He was educated in Bath schools and graduated from Morse High School in 1962. In 1966 he graduated from Wesleyan University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and followed that up in 1968 with a master's degree in European history at Vanderbilt University. He then taught history and coached at the Pomfret School in Connecticut, served as the academic headmaster at The American School in Switzerland, located in Lugano, and followed that by a brief stint as the admissions director at Finch College. In 1976 Bob was appointed headmaster of the Miss Hall's School and served in that capacity for the next eight years. Bob, in partnership with his brother, Bill, opened Bridgham & Cook, Ltd., a British import store in Exeter, N.H., in 1985. Three years later the store eventually found its way to its current location in Freeport. Athletics were an integral part of Bob's life, particularly as a teenager at Morse High School. As a bruising three-sport varsity athlete, Bob particularly loved football, in which his passing skills took a backseat to his punishing running and defensive approach. Memory is a tricky thing, but Dave Bourque, the long-time sports writer and editor for the Times-Record, recalled one particular American Legion baseball game that took place behind the current Bath Middle School. Dave steadfastly maintained that Bob smashed a rocket shot long past the center field fence and deep into the parking lot that never climbed higher than fifteen feet. Bob also was the co-captain of the 1962 Morse High basketball squad that beat Bangor for the state championship only to lose to East Providence in the first round in the New England tourney. In that crucial game he failed to score a single point for the first time in his career. Years later Bob maintained that his best moment of that evening came several hours following the game, when he reached out and snagged an unsteady Morse High booster out of the path of an oncoming taxi. At the age of 32 he became the youngest boarding school headmaster in the country when he accepted the appointment to what was then known as The Hall School, Pittsfield, Mass. Like many other boarding schools at the time, the financially struggling institution was on the brink of collapse when he took over. Additionally, the school was in its first year of what proved to be a brief stretch as a co-ed school. He immediately focused in on increasing the student enrollment, particularly the international population of the school. Bob, along with his admissions director Diederek van Renesse, visited the homes of families from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia to Hong Kong and all points in between to make it happen. As the school slowly regained its financial footing, he steered the institution back to its rightful identity as an all-girls school, and thus, in the early-1980s, The Hall School once again became known as Miss Hall's School. Joan Kurber, his assistant at Miss Hall's recalled that "his uncanny ability to say the right thing to anyone in any situation" ensured the vitality of the school when many others were closing. After leaving Miss Hall's, and in his words, "released from a responsible life," his venture into British imports in 1985 with his brother, Bill, was motivated in large measure by his love of the British Isles and an avenue that would put him in "regular contact with British and Irish pubs." In 2010 their business, Bridgham & Cook, Ltd., Freeport, was passed on to his daughter, Kate and his son, Nick, and has thrived under their ownership. His keen mind, his insatiable curiosity and his steel-trap memory made him an intellectual force of nature. As a lifelong voracious reader and gifted writer, he would not hesitate, if the situation warranted it, to cut to the heart of any matter with a surgeon's skill. He was, like his father before him, a man of strong loyalties who treasured his family and his friends. His irreverent sense of humor wrapped its arms around the outrageous and the inappropriate. Throughout his life he would go to infinite lengths to pull off pranks on unsuspecting friends who not only endured them over the years but also came to embrace the insanity of it all. These qualities, these friendships, along with his family and the love of his life, his wife, Anne, would serve him well as he faced his final hurdle. In 2000 at the time that he was diagnosed with A.L.S., his neurologist attempted to dissuade Bob from his plans to "go all the way" with the disease - the frank assessment being that such a course would be "bleak" in many ways. When later asked what he thought about his doctor's opinion, Bob replied, "Well, he's not me, is he?" He never wavered from his initial decision to "take it down to a blink," never once complained and made it clear early on that he was not "throwing a pity party for every part of his body that stopped working." He was to those closest to him a tower of strength. He smiled for as long as his muscles allowed, but his love for his family and those around him never left his eyes.
He is survived by his devoted wife of 23 years, Anne Norment Bussey of Bath; his daughter, Kate Bussey Paulus and husband, Jay, of Bath; Kate's mother, Bob's first wife, Karen Back Bussey, of Bath; his son, Nicholas B. Bussey of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Nicholas' mother, Bob's second wife, Lisa S. Bussey and her partner, Nan Barbour, of Portland; three siblings, Anne Bussey Dale and her husband, Michael, of Ellsworth, John M. Bussey and wife, Jiraporn, of Bath and William C. Bussey and wife, Nan, of Dedham, Mass.; and his beloved grandchildren, Alexander, Christopher and Isabelle Paulus of Bath. In addition, he is survived by nieces and nephews, Benjamin M. Dale and wife, Elena, of New Jersey, Rosemary Dale Soule, Jonathan B. Dale and wife, Abby, all of Maine, Kate and Sarah Bussey of Dedham, Mass., and Jason H. Bussey of Bath; twin great-nieces, Anne Leznik Dale and Emily Bussey Dale; and great-nephews, Nathan William and Zachary Bridgham Soule and Jacob Michael Dale. In addition he is survived by his namesake and devoted uncle, F. Robert Bussey and wife, Ruth, of New Orleans, The Bussey family expresses their deep appreciation to the many people who helped Bob navigate his final 12 years. Among them are the following: Dr. Paul LaPrad, Dr. James McCormick, Dr. Hal Sreden and Dr. Artin Mahmoudi - Beijing United Hospital; Jane Greenblatt and Jill Lufkin-Robinson of Home, Hope and Healing, Inc. and his most recent nurses, Cyndy Dalton, Ronald Dyer, Marie Erskine, Nancy Gerrans, Stephanie Mark, Diane Prevost, and Stephanie Shapiro; Ronnie Sweeney, Holly White and Terry Nehring of CHANS Home Health Care; the staff of the intensive care unit at Mid-Coast Maine Hospital, Brunswick; and Bath Fire and Rescue.
A celebration of Bob's life will take place 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 8, at Grace Episcopal Church, 1100 Washington St., Bath. A luncheon reception will be afterward at Bath Country Club. If you wish, donations in Bob's memory may be made to Fields For Our Future, care of Bath Parks & Recreation Department, 4 Sheridan Road, Bath, ME 04530.