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Robert A. English

Robert A. English, beloved member of the Ipswich community, having had loving visits from his children and with his dog and spouse at his side, died peacefully July 15, 2011 at the Kaplan Family Hospice House on Danvers of complications from leukemia and chemotherapy.

He was born April 14, 1929 in Nashua, NH, the eighth and youngest child of George Edward and Florence (Aptt) English who emigrated from Nova Scotia, settling in Pepperel, MA. The family was rich in love and humor but not material goods, and the deprivation he remembered as a child he said “...compelled me to look at the rest of the world with much expectation and interest.” He was the first in his family to attend college, and his future encompassed three distinct  and very successful careers. After high school, Bob enlisted in the military and soon married Mary Bello with whom he raised two daughters and a son. The couple also adopted Mary’s youngest brother whom they raised from his teens. Bob attended night school for years, getting an AB degree from McKendree College and an MS degree for the University of Colorado in Boulder. In his 23 years in the Air Force, he rose to the rank of major in record time. The family lived in Ulm, Germany during the Austrian crisis, and in Manilla, the Philippines, during Vietnam where he was Registrar transporting the dead and wounded back to the States. Later, he recruited physicians, dentists, and nurses for the Surgeon General, however, the Kent State shooting was a turning point that compelled him to retire from the military at age 39.

The teaching he had did in the Air Force led to his next career as a college professor. He taught at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, at U.N.H., and finally at Providence College as Director and Chairman of the newly-formed Health Services Administration Program for 19 years. While at P.C., he went through a divorce, and about six years later met Brian F. O’Neill at the old Napoleon Club bar in Boston. They bought a house in Ipswich where they resided for 22 years, the last five as a married couple. Together, they rehabbed the historic 1727 Col. Nathaniel Wade House for which they received the Mary Conley Historic Preservation Award in 1994.

In Ipswich, Bob’s final career as a respected painter blossomed. For decades, he had been involved in painting and in galleries whenever time allowed, garnering many awards in all the Air Force and college towns. Once retired in Ipswich, he could finally give free rein to his boundless imagination and artistic energy, painting six hours a day right up to his final weeks. It was a time of great joy for him, surrounded by art and the couple’s quirky collections, books on art and Native American culture, and many animals, his other passion.

His distinctive mixed media paintings done with unconventional imaginative techniques were shown in many North Shore galleries and venues, including the Art Guild and the Art Association in Marblehead, Mingo Gallery in Beverly, Post Road Framers in Rowley, Bravos Art Gallery in Georgetown, Hobson Gallery  and Zenobia, both in Ipswich. 

In 2000, he and four other Ipswich artists founded River Gallery where he showed for eight years, and most recently, at Mix’d Media Gallery, also in Ipswich. His work received numerous awards including from the Beacon Hill Art Walk, the Marblehead Festival of the Arts, and the Ipswich Town Show. His backyard was home for years to “Art in the Yard”, an outdoor salon with other artist friends. Bob was a generous man who contributed countless paintings to worthy causes.

Bob’s artistic drive was matched only by his passion for animals, especially cats. The couple had many boisterous holiday parties where his paintings were raffled off to benefit the Ipswich Humane Group. They also trapped, tamed, and found homes for feral kittens  and did a catch-spay-release program for adult cats.The big house was always filled with animals of all sorts.

An elegant and humble man, full of compassion, empathy, and good humor, Bob was loved by all who met him. He leaves part of himself behind in his whimsical paintings cherished by friends and strangers alike. Besides Mr. O’Neill, he is survived by his former wife, Mary, of Portsmouth, RI, his daughters Michelle Johnson of Wyoming, RI and Mary Margaret (Meg) and her husband Geof of Middletown,RI, and his son, Michael and his wife, Anna of Arlington, VT. ,and five grandchildren; Benjamin Johnson, Eli and Brooks English, Jacob and Liam Reilly; and many loving nieces and nephews.

No formal services are planned, and internment will be private. A celebration of Bob’s life at his home, and a possible final show of his new and old work, will be announced in early Fall. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Bob’s name may be made to the Ipswich Humane Group, PO Box 873, Ipswich, MA 01938. Arrangements were under the direction of the Whittier-Porter Funeral Home of Ipswich.

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