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The Reverend Robert A. Bryan

The Reverend Robert A. Bryan, who launched an aerial ministry in the remote reaches of the Quebec and Labrador coasts and then built a foundation that now does environmental work across the globe, passed away peacefully in Sherbrooke, Quebec, on 12 December 2018, surrounded by his three daughters from his marriage to the late Faith Lamb Bryan. He was eighty-seven years old.

Over five decades, Bob Bryan served people of isolated fishing villages and remote summer outports as an Anglican priest while also operating as an air ambulance pilot. In 1961 Bob started a summer program which placed volunteer students, mostly from the U.S. and Canada, in these hamlets. The students ran day camps for the children of a population of determinedly individual fishing families, and taught kids to swim in a region where drownings were common.

His organization, now known as the Quebec-Labrador Foundation (QLF), continues Bob’s work today with a focus on the environment around the world.

QLF is a not-for-profit organization in the United States and a Registered Charity in Canada with a mandate to work “beyond borders." Its mission is to foster stewardship of cultural heritage and the environment. QLF focuses its home region efforts on rural communities throughout eastern Canada and New England; it emphasizes local participation and conducts much of its work using interns and volunteers drawn from schools and universities across Canada and the United States. QLF has also sponsored international exchanges of conservation leaders.

Mike Wright editor of the 1994 book, Natural Connections: Perspectives in Community-based Conservation noted that “QLF was leading the charge into community conservation before any of the rest of us even knew the term.”

With tens of thousands of flying hours over fifty years, Bob was also an accomplished bush pilot. He flew in a series of seaplanes, all painted a signature yellow that announced his presence.

Bryan delighted generations as the co-star of a series of comedy albums called “Bert and I” that he first produced in 1958 with his Yale friend the late Marshall Dodge. The two told dryly comic stories from Down East Maine. First recorded for friends and family, the albums were later produced for the public and remain for sale today.

Bob himself was a raconteur who had a story for nearly every occasion. His warm and outgoing personality, his confidence in people, and his relentless focus on service earned him lifelong friends wherever he went. “When Uncle Bob walks out the door, people want to get up and follow," a nephew once said.

  From an early age he was drawn to storytelling, to adventure and to the art of forging deep and lasting friendships with people from all walks of life and across the globe. These qualities defined his life.

"The happiest moments of my life have been involved in human service,” Bob said in a speech upon receiving the 1986 Hotchkiss School alumni award.

Bob is survived by his daughters Sarah Bryan Severance, Kerry Bryan Brokaw, and Sandy Bryan Weatherall, nine grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. He is also survived by his sister, Hazel Tracy and his second wife, Patricia Shannon Peacock. Bob’s first wife, Faith Bradford Lamb, died in 2000.

The sixth of James Taylor Bryan and Hazel Rosalind Lafrentz’s seven children, Bob Byran was born in Mill Neck, Long Island, where many of his first experiences with the outdoors took place. Hunting and fishing were passions since boyhood. He graduated from Hotchkiss School —where, by his own admission, he put more effort into athletics than academics—and Hebron Academy, from Yale University in 1954, and from the Yale Divinity School in 1957. He married Faith Lamb in 1955 and was ordained as an Episcopal Priest in 1958.

Passionate about aviation since childhood, Bob learned to fly during his college years. His first taste of the Quebec wilderness was a canoe trip he took with Faith on their honeymoon in 1955. He later pitched the Anglican Archdiocese of Quebec on the idea of working as a priest on the Quebec North Shore with an airplane, and the idea was accepted in 1959. With the help of the royalties from “Bert and I” he bought his first seaplane. By the next year he had flown into Labrador.

“And that’s when I had this impression of vastness and the total beauty of rivers with steep gradients and waterfalls and rapids rushing down into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, one after another, as I flew along the Coast,” he said.

Bob first worked with the International Grenfell Mission, a long-serving medical network in the North, and then started the Quebec-Labrador Foundation. He initially took a few students from the Choate School, where he served as chaplain and teacher, north to run a summer day camp in Harrington Harbour, Quebec, which became his base of operations. Harrington Harbor is about 700 miles east of Montreal.

Over the next decade this effort blossomed into a volunteer program involving more than 125 high school and college students placed in villages from Maine and New Brunswick to Quebec, Labrador and Newfoundland.

In the early years of the summer program, many of these communities had no electricity or indoor plumbing. Particularly in the north, coastal villages were isolated, with no roads. They were connected to the “outside” only by the occasional visit of a coastal supply ship, by seaplane, in the winter by dogsled, and later, by snowmobile.

 Bob quickly fell in love with the people of the Coast. They had, he wrote in his memoir, Robert Bryan: The Flying Parson of Labrador and the Real Story behind Bert and I, (Down East Books, 2014) “a way of life that bred a nobility of spirit, pride, tenacity and instinct for self-sufficiency that I deeply admire.”

Over the course of his career, Bob’s warmth and outgoing personality was greatly enhanced by Faith Bryan. Visitors were struck by her unfailing welcome to people who arrived out of the blue and by her own sense of adventure. Faith Bryan was equally loved by the people of the Coast.

Bob had a colorful resume. While at Choate he appeared on the popular television show, To Tell the Truth. But he didn't baffle the panel for long as his sheer joy in sharing his story gave away his occupation and flying exploits.

In 1966 he participated in a federal test of whether emergency supplies could be flown into New York City by fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Bob became the first-ever pilot to make a scheduled landing in a fixed-wing plane on Manhattan. In addition to the initial landing of his Helio Courier aircraft on Pier 26, he made multiple takeoffs and landings with various dignitaries on Hudson River piers and lower East Side parks during the weekend.

Bob and his brother, James T. Bryan, also participated in an environmentally significant land deal in Maine in 1988 when they raised money and worked with state officials to save the land around pristine Tunk Lake from development. The lake is near Acadia National Park. The Bryan family had summered at the lake as children.

In all, four private groups participated as the state acquired 7,000 acres of forest land and frontage along two lakes. The Maine Governor called it a "gem of a deal" in a state that the New York Times described as having "little public land despite vast wilderness areas."

An avid fisherman who described the great pleasure he derived from teaching his three daughters to fly fish on the Quebec Coast, Bob was a Board Member of the Atlantic Salmon Federation. He also served on, among others, the boards of the New England Grenfell Association, the Seaplane Pilots Association (International) and the Waterfowl Research Foundation, Inc.

There will be celebrations of Bob’s life both in both Canada and in Massachusetts. In Canada the Memorial Service will be in Lennoxville, Quebec at St. George's on Thursday, January 17 at 11 AM. In Massachusetts, the Memorial Service will be held at Christ Church of Hamilton and Wenham, 149 Asbury Street, South Hamilton on Saturday, January 19 at 11AM.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Quebec Labrador Foundation, 4 South Main Street, Ipswich, Mass. 01938 USA or 606 rue Cathcart, bureau 401, Montréal, Québec H3B 1K9 Canada, or to the Dr. W.J. Klinck Foundation, 1515 Pleasant View, Sherbrooke, Quebec J1M 0C6



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