"There Were No Trees"


By John Sweney

Bob Gillespie, Colby's college editor since 1986, a member of the English faculty (1971-77 and 1982-2005), and a writer of essays, fiction, and poetry, will retire at the end of June. By his own description he has tried to give Colby publications "as much consistency, coherence, and grace as possible" while allowing "not one typographical, grammatical, factual, or other mistake to get into print""a high standard, very nearly achieved.

Colby solicited Gillespie's friend and colleague Emeritus Professor of English John Sweney to write about the man whose contributions shaped Colby's printed words through the turn of the century.

I've known Bob Gillespie for 34 years, and I admire him greatly, even if his faultless memory nearly always gets the best of me. Whether it's baseball statistics, when someone graduated from Colby, or what I did on my last birthday, he's nearly always right and I'm wrong, but that memory is a great gift and one his colleagues in the communications office are going to miss dearly. They will also miss his graceful writing, his impeccable editing, and his gentle coaching, just as students missed his dedicated teaching of composition, literature, and creative writing when he left the English Department years ago to take over Colby magazine, which he edited and wrote almost single-handedly for some time.

What a versatile man: poet, teacher, editor, former marathon runner (and still out on the Colby track nearly every day), canoeist (ask him about his Mississippi River trips), master clam-dip maker, and handyman (you should see him plaster). If Colby isn't his first love, that might be his old farmhouse in Benton, where he enjoys walking in his beautiful woods with his dog.

A lover of all animals, Bob wouldn't hurt a mouse. In fact he used to feed them in his carrel in the library, much to the horror of librarians, and he still avoids trapping mice in his home, hoping (vainly) that his cat will solve the problem.

We can be certain Bob will stay in Maine. In the late 1970s, he left Colby for a job in Idaho, but after two years he knew he had to get back to Maine. "There were no trees," he said. We were all grateful for his return.

In one of his Maine poems in his collection The Man Chain, he wrote, "For I am still afraid of leaving/no vivid signature in the air but affection." Bob will leave many vivid signatures behind at Colby as well as the affection of all who have studied with, worked with, and known him.