Robert "Bob" Bennett, age 78, passed away peacefully at home on March 16, 2020, surrounded by his family. Born in 1941 in Washington DC to the late John Faber Bennett and Sophie Beale Bennett, he was the beloved husband of Joan, to whom he was married for 54 years, dear brother of John Bennett (Diana), proud father of Miriam Bennett (Jon Miller) and Aaron Bennett (Sarah Dunbar), and devoted grandfather "Bop" to Maya and Rowan Miller, and Otis Bennett.
Robert taught English literature at the University of Delaware, specializing in Shakespeare and modern theater. The author of Romance and Reformation: The Erasmian Spirit of Measure for Measure and many articles, he enjoyed teaching both English and non-English majors, demonstrating that the lessons and delights of Shakespeare are as accessible to athletes and engineers as to anyone else, especially when aided by his memorable "acting projects."
From his youngest age, Robert was an athlete. At age 10, he played 85-lb. football scoring 15 out of 20 touchdowns for his team during one undefeated season. Teammate Steve Rickert recalls, "He simply put the ball under his arm like a loaf of bread and took off like a rocket, while his mother yelled out, 'That's my boy!'. He won the All-Metropolitan Championship in wrestling as a teenager at St. Albans School, where he also pursued one of the greatest loves of his life, running. At the University of North Carolina, he ran with his team to conference championships in track and cross-country. He kept running throughout the rest of his life—at Stanford where met Joan and earned his Ph.D., and in Newark, Delaware, where, with Mark Deshon, he co-founded the Creek Road Runners. At each stage of his running career, he made friends, fostered community, and whooped his competitors.
Robert was a passionate nature enthusiast, trail maintainer, mountain hiker, and environmental activist. He taught his children the great mysteries of nature as they lay under the stars at Yosemite and Glacier National Parks. On other adventures he helped rescue fellow backpackers from quicksand, fell on the North Slope of the Grand Canyon into Kanab creek (that floated him and his 35-lb. pack down a steep half-mile toward the Colorado River), and encountered a mother grizzly bear and her cubs while camping with his own daughter, who was pregnant with his first grandchild. When not on Western mountaintops, he could regularly be found walking and maintaining trails near home in Delaware. He faithfully filled squirrel-proof bird feeders in his backyard, and when the call went out for someone to stand guard over the eggs of a wayward sea turtle, he was there.
Active in many environmental groups both local and national, Robert initiated the effort to create a Delaware chapter of the Sierra Club shortly after his arrival in 1969. He worked closely for over 40 years with Dorothy Miller, Don Sharpe and other Delaware environmental heroes. In 1990, he defiantly parked his station wagon in front of a bulldozer he caught carrying out an illegal attempt to start demolition of wetlands for an unapproved construction project, an action that caused the Delaware State Senate to commend "his courageous demonstration of commitment to the cause of preserving the integrity of the White Clay Creek Valley."
In his studies of drama, his camaraderie with fellow athletes and activists, his connection to animals and nature, his deep love for his family, Robert lived out the same principles that he revealed to his students and readers in his teaching and his writings. The key to a good life, he taught us, is humility, a truth that can be understood through the Christian humanism embodied in Shakespeare's art and Erasmus' philosophy. Throughout his life, Robert carried with him a hand written copy of this prayer:
O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God.
To those who would like to honor Robert's memory, the family suggests a contribution to "St. Thomas's Episcopal Church" or to "The Nature Conservancy-Delaware," which can be sent in care of R.T. Foard & Jones Funeral Home, 122 W. Main St., Newark, DE 19711. A celebration of his life will be held at St. Thomas's Episcopal Church in Newark, Delaware, to be announced at a later date.
Published in The News Journal from Mar. 20 to Mar. 22, 2020.