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Robin Brooks: Multi-talented Volunteer

Robin and Jeanne Brooks

By Doug Warren

When he was about 10 years old, Robin Brooks cruised on a 56-foot sailboat from the mouth of the Connecticut River to Cutler, in far Downeast Maine. The trip made quite an impression.

“After that, I always knew I wanted to live on the coast of Maine,” recalled Brooks, now 82.

That desire ultimately brought the Williamstown, Mass., native to a teaching job at Bowdoin College and a home on Bailey Island in 1967. “At that time, there was no question about land preservation. Also, there was no question about access. That’s different now and that’s why what the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust (HHLT) does is so important.”

Brooks should know. After being elected to the HHLT Board of Trustees in 2007 to fill a one-year vacancy, he was re-elected to three, three-year terms and recently stepped down after being termed out by HHLT bylaws. During that time, Brooks was a regular on the Communications and Stewardship committees.

“Robin was always ready with his truck and carpentry skills wherever we needed him,” said Reed Coles, HHLT executive director. “The appeal of Houghton Graves Park, in particular, reflects Robin’s diligence as a steward of Harpswell’s special places.”

Another one of the special places in Harpswell is the house Brooks built himself, with the help of some friends, he will modestly add, off Bayview Road on Orr’s Island, where he and his wife, Jeanne, live today. Brooks describes the home, on the site of the former Reed Cove Boat Yard, as “kind of a standard Cape in size,” but there is nothing standard about it.

All the lumber in the house came from structures at the New England Shipbuilding Corp. in South Portland, which churned out Liberty Ships during World War II. Brooks and longtime Harpswell selectman Malcolm “Laddie” Whidden hauled the wood to the home site in 1978 and Brooks took it from there. He also did all the brick work, a skill he learned as a mason’s assistant in high school. The result is spectacular and a labor of love.

Brooks is a man of many talents. He attended Columbia University, earning a degree in economics. In graduate school at Yale, he found he enjoyed mathematics more than economics and ultimately received his doctorate in math from UCLA. That led to the teaching job at Bowdoin and later Bates College, from which he retired in 2001. After that, along with his HHLT duties, Brooks served on the town planning and budget advisory boards, and started playing the clarinet again, his wife is pleased to point out. Today, Brooks plays with the Harpswell Concert Band, which is now in its fifth season.

“I believe very strongly in the mission of the land trust and the preservation of natural places,” Brooks said. “But stewardship is a very important part of that process. We need to be sure we have the people to continue to preserve and maintain those places.”

He praised the community outreach efforts of HHLT and said outreach coordinator Julia McLeod has done an outstanding job. “The events and programs for young people are really important for the future of the land trust and the town of Harpswell,” he explained.

Brooks served as the trustee steward for the McIntosh Lot on Bailey Island, as well as Houghton Graves on Orr’s. “I enjoy going out and working on the land,” he said, briefly summing up years of dedicated labor. As Reed Coles added, “It’s appropriate that Robin’s last contribution as a trustee was the design, construction and installation of steps down to the shore of Basin Cove at our Curtis Farm Preserve.”

And while Brooks has stepped down from the HHLT board, he still plans to contribute when he can: “When they need some work done or someone with a pickup, they can always call me.

September 2017