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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Robert Hayden DeWolfe

Note: My dear friend, Rob DeWolfe, is retiring today. I'm off to a special celebration in his honor at The Parish of St. Clement's, Honolulu, where he has been assisting clergy on staff for the past several years. A huge parish celebration will follow. I plan to read this tribute to him during the festivities.

On “Being There”

A Tribute to my friend, Robert Hayden De Wolfe

The first time I met Rob De Wolfe, he protected me with a baseball bat. That incident was to launch the first wonderful episode in the amazing 26 year series of “high drama” which has been our friendship.

Let me set the scene: It was a simple enough visit. At that time, we were living in Portland, Maine. Rob was the rector of Trinity, Saco, a lovely, quaint New England church, one town over. One of his parishioners, a dear friend of ours, had asked him to come and visit our family.

It was the summer of 1981, our “baby,” Mia, was just two months old and, between summer visitation of our children and the arrival of our foster kids, we had eleven children living in an old eleven room Victorian house.

Imention, only as a footnote in my memory, that this house had no central heating system and took seven cords of wood a year to heat – which we cut and stacked ourselves and hand-carried into the house as needed.

Yes. It was 1981. It was Maine. We were young. Could we have been that strong? Or, foolish?

My beloved partner, Ms. Conroy, had just broken her back in three places and was recovering slowly, coordinating the summer chaos from her station on the brown coach in the living room with the impeccable effectiveness that had earned her the title “Mother Superior” from the children.

Just to add to the intensity of the drama, we were also in the middle of “Stage II” of a fierce five-year custody battle with my former husband who was furious that the children were choosing to live with us. He would often drive up from Boston and park his car at the end of our street, menacing us with his presence and his camera. That day was such a day.

I swear this is all true. You can’t make this stuff up.

Enter Rob, the dashingly handsome Vicar of Saco, come to pay a call about baptizing our baby. He wasn’t in the house 15 minutes when, from her station on the couch, Barbara noticed my ex-husband getting out of the car. She reached very calmly under the pillow and pulled out a baseball bat.

Handing it to Rob she said, in very measured tones, “Excuse me, sir, but would you mind holding this?”

“This?” said Rob, eyes wide and in his best stage voice. “This . . . baseball bat? Whatever for?”

Never one to be flummoxed – or ever denied – Ms. Conroy continued, “ . . .and stand in front of that window there. That’s it. That’s a good man. Just take the baseball bat, stand in front of the window, and, if you can, try to look menacing.”

“Menacing?” stuttered Rob, as he dutifully took the baseball bat, got up from his chair and began to move toward the window. “Me? I mean, I was in Viet Nam, but that was a while ago.”

“Good,” declared Ms. Conroy. “Good. That time in Nam will serve you well. You see that man there? That’s Elizabeth’s ex-husband and he’s probably madder than hell that you’re here. God only knows what he’s thinking. Just don’t let him in the house, okay?”

“SWEETBABYJESUSCHRIST!” yelled Rob, as he clutched the baseball bat tightly in his hands, looking somehow taller and convincingly strong. “Are you ****** kidding me? You’re not, are you? Kidding me? Are you?”

He turned and fixed his gaze out the window, saying, “HOLYMARYMOTHEROFGOD!!”

There were other words, sacred and profane – “mystical incantations”, we came to call them – which Rob uttered in his successful attempt to intimidate my former husband and save the two lesbian mother damsels and their eleven children in their time of distress.

Oh, he and Brooke Alexander, the first woman to be ordained in the Diocese of Maine, also baptized our baby – about five months later, after we had joined the church – together with all of our eleven children, thereby distinguishing his congregation as the fastest growing church in the Episcopal Diocese of Maine that year.

How could a friendship thusly begun not last more than 25 years later?

No matter where we are, no matter where we were, no matter that that paths of our individual lives have, from time to time, led us apart, we have always “been there” for each other.

We were there for each other during Rob’s painful divorce, coming out and leave-taking from his church. His absolute devotion to his children led him to work out a joint custody situation which called for him to stay in the same town where he had previously been a prominent pastor. His apartment was only a few blocks from the apartment of his ex-wife. The children spent part of their week with both parents, alternating weekends.

He didn’t care what others might have thought of him or how that limited his career choices – which it most certainly did. The stability and security of his children came first, come what may, cost what it might.

Greater love hath no children than a parent who lays his life down for them.

We were there for each other during the “great diocesan controversy” that was my ordination process. Rob was, at the time, not only the rector of the congregation that initially sponsored me, but also the Chair of the Commission on Ministry. I could not have asked for a more loyal, devoted friend and pastor.

Through it all, he was a reflection of the rock and strength of which the Psalmists sing.

We were there for each other when we had no money and our credit cards bounced in a discount children’s clothing store.

We were there for each other, buying lobsters on a sale for one of our kid’s birthday celebrations with his pocket change and my food stamps.

We were there for each other on cheap camping vacations, sharing tents, sleeping blankets and cooking equipment. We also shared the unfolding stories of our lives, drinking “bug juice” as we sat around the campfire long into the cool Maine summer nights.

God willing, we will continue to be there for each other – me in the Northeast corridor of America and he in the Southeast corner of the world.

If one’s true treasure lies in the heart, Rob’s friendship has made me a woman of great wealth.

Thanks be to God.

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