Obituary : Robert S. Sturgis
Robert Shaw Sturgis, of Weston and West Tisbury, died at his home in Weston on Friday, August 1. He was 86. A lifelong Weston resident, he was born on July 8, 1922, the eldest child of George Sturgis and Rosamond Thomas Bennett Sturgis [Little]. His paternal grandfather was the half-brother of the philosopher George Santayana, whom Bob knew personally and in whose work he took an active interest.
In 1965, he, his wife, and their four children spent their first summer on Tisbury Great Pond. It was love at first sight, a love that only deepened over the following decades. After several years of renting, in the early 1970s Bob bought land on Thumb Point and designed and built a contemporary camp. As beach walker, bird watcher, swimmer, and shell-fisherman, he took full advantage of the pond's beauty and bounty, but his most joyful hours were spent sailing his Sunfish, exploring the coves, visiting South Beach, and participating in the Sunfish races that were held off Big Sandy on summer Sundays for many years. Each racing season culminated in the Demerara Cup race, held around Labor Day, with as many as two dozen boats competing for a bottle of Demerara rum and the challenge trophy: a painting of the races by Willie Huntington. Numerous empty bottles still adorn the shelves of the family camp, testimony to his sailing skill and his knowledge of the pond's shifting shallows. In 1988 he circumnavigated the Vineyard in a Sunfish, a journey of 24 hours. Most winters he managed to spend at least a few days on the pond, roughing it in the un-insulated camp and drawing water from the pump.
Bob Sturgis attended Weston public schools and graduated from St. Mark's School in Southborough in 1939. After taking a year off to travel and work, he entered Harvard College in 1940 and quickly immersed himself in the "Crimson," Harvard's undergraduate newspaper. World War II intervened, and after completing his sophomore year he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He served in North Africa and Italy, leaving the service as a master sergeant. He rarely spoke of his war experiences, but years later he did confide to one of his children that in "Catch-22" novelist Joseph Heller had captured what it was like. At war's end he returned to Harvard and the "Crimson," of which he became president. Although a member of the Class of 1944, he received his diploma in 1947. Unusual among his newspaper colleagues, he did not pursue a career in journalism. Having decided at age ten that he wanted to be an architect, he entered Harvard's Graduate School of Design; he received his degree in 1951.
From his family and education Bob developed a strong sense of civic responsibility; his volunteer commitments were many. While establishing himself in his profession, he became active in the Boston Architectural Center (BAC; now the Boston Architectural College), the Boston Society of Architects (BSA), and the American Institute of Architects (AIA). His dedication to all three continued to the very end of his life. Urban design and teaching were deep-rooted passions. He chaired the BSA's Civic Design Committee that produced "An Architects' Plan for Boston" (1961). He was active on the AIA's Urban Planning and Design Committee; in 1967 he founded the AIA's Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team (R/UDAT) program, which continues to this day. He was elected a Fellow of the AIA in 1971, and in 1988 he received the AIA's presidential citation. He was a dedicated teacher at the BAC and served as its chair from 1981 to 1985. Earlier this year the college honored his 53 years of service by presenting him with its Selfless Labor Award, which recognizes long-term commitment and support of the BAC educational model.
He is survived by his four children, Susanna J. Sturgis of West Tisbury, Roger B. Sturgis of Stow, John H. Sturgis of Hudson, and Ellen S. Sturgis and her husband, Michael Kopczynski; and by two grandchildren, Jacob S. Kopczynski and Rosamond L. D. Kopczynski, all of Stow. He is also survived by his sister-in-law, Kathy Sturgis of Watertown; her two children, Christine Gray and Josephine Sturgis; his brother-in-law, Hugh Mitchell of Wayland; and his former wife, Sylvia Maynard of Cambridge. He was predeceased by his first wife, Joan (Chiquita) Mitchell Sturgis, and by his two brothers, Neville Sturgis and Nathaniel Russell Sturgis.
A celebration of his life was held at the First Parish Church in Weston on August 7. In lieu of flowers his family suggests that donations in his memory be made to the Boston Architectural College, 320 Newbury St., Boston, MA 02115.