A Life: Robert Goodrich, 1934-2017; ‘He Was Very Much Ahead of His Time’

  • Bob Goodrich, a professor emeritus from Norwich University, in a 2009 portrait at Pat and Bob Goodrich's home in Randolph on their 50th anniversary. (Family photograph)

  • Bob Goodrich works on a charging station he built for electric cars in the circa 2000 "Tour de Sol" contest, in which drivers of electric vehicles compete to see how far they can travel on one charge. (Family photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, July 17, 2017

Randolph — Epic music swells as the camera sweeps over the foothills of the Green Mountains.

“In the year 1468,” a gravelly voiced narrator proclaims, “King Edward IV sent William Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, to take Harlech Castle, a stronghold in northern Wales.”

In preparation for the assault, the narrator tells us, the earl ordered his archers to gather at “Goodrich Castle,” where he “held tests of readiness for battle.”

So begins a YouTube video heralding the 2010 iteration of “Lost Tip,” a gathering of medieval archery enthusiasts who descended on Randolph to hone their skills in hill and dale. (The name of the event — Lost Tip — refers to the tendency of arrowheads to break or disappear when used outside of a closed archery range.)

The operatic music grows louder as men and women, wearing jerkins and feathered caps, clamber over obstacles and loose arrows into targets and decoy deer.

Although the imagined setting, Goodrich Castle, is a real medieval fortification in western England, it also might refer to Bob Goodrich, owner of the Randolph property that hosted the re-enactors, a local branch of the international organization known as the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Later in the video, the lord of the manor looks on with satisfaction as awards are given out to the competitors, some of whom he himself had taught to bend a bow.

Goodrich, a professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Norwich University who loved to pass his skills — whether they be in archery, science, or folk dancing — to others, died on March 25, 2017, in Lebanon, where he had moved to live at Harvest Hill. He was 82.

He was born Sept. 4, 1934, in Randolph to Martha Wood and Warren Goodrich. His father died when he was a year old, and Martha and his stepfather, George Armstrong, raised him in West Lebanon.

As a child, Bob took an early interest in archery and in stories — particularly in that of Robin Hood, who remained a fascination for the rest of his life.

In 1952 he graduated from West Lebanon High and went on to the University of New Hampshire in Durham. He majored in electrical engineering and served in the college ROTC program.

Goodrich also continued dancing, a childhood hobby that in 1954 introduced him to Patricia Cain.

Perhaps, as his son John suspected, Goodrich liked how he looked in a kilt. Or perhaps, as Pat surmised, he liked the athleticism required to meet the then-stringent standards of Scottish folk dancing’s licensing body. (The Queen, it was said, demanded Scottish folk dancers at her balls.)

But “he was a wonderful dancer,” his wife said last week, a far-off look entering her eyes — no matter his motivations for taking up the hobby.

The pair were married in 1959, after Goodrich had graduated from college and received his master’s degree. Soon after, having just gotten out of a six-month stint in the Army, he began teaching at his alma mater.

At UNH, he gained a reputation as an understated but effective educator who, both in the classroom and outside of it, knew how to drive home a lesson.

“He was a very quiet person and never was emotional,” Pat said, “but if a student did something dangerous he would become another person. He would yell at them. And it worked. They understood these things weren’t to be played around with.”

Goodrich earned a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in 1970, penning a dissertation on “Electrical construction: from shock heated argon to conical probes.”

In the early ’70s, he came up for tenure at UNH and was denied a permanent place on the faculty. Casting about for a job, he ended up at Northeast Utilities, now known as Eversource, the largest power company in New England.

The family moved to Newington, Conn., for the job, and Pat and Bob raised five children there: Sarah, Elizabeth, Deborah, George and John.

“He loved teaching,” John said last week. “I think he got the Northeast Utilities job because it was what he could get. It wasn’t his ideal, but I think he made the best of it — made it a job he could deal with and a job he enjoyed.”

More than just make do, Goodrich was the source of several technical innovations during his years in industry.

As a planning engineer for Northeast Utilities, he created a computer program to track the company’s distribution of electricity over its power network. Before the early advent of computers, spearheaded at the company by Goodrich, power engineers used to map its network using actual physical models, his son said.

Those years also marked his first run-in with medieval re-enactors, or “living history groups,” as organizations like the Society of Creative Anachronism call themselves.

An SCA festival in Hartford, Conn., in 1976, became an opportunity for Goodrich to showcase his archery abilities. He donned a Robin Hood costume — tights, jerkin and green hat handmade by Pat — and taught fairgoers to shoot.

Later, after rising to director of research at Northeast Utilities, Goodrich won support for a research project that uncovered the physiological mechanism by which electrical burns cause necrosis in skin.

As his son John remembers it, Goodrich backed a research team that demonstrated how electrical burns create tiny holes in the walls of skin cells. As the fluid inside leaks out, the cells die.

The discovery helped explain why seemingly healthy skin near burn wounds can later die: the holes are smaller with distance from the burn site, which means the fluid, called protoplasm, takes longer to drain.

For Goodrich’s family to learn that he was proud of certain accomplishments — or even that he made them — was a rare thing.

Pat said many of the details of his work she first learned in 2016, when she read the self-authored bio that he had been required to write when joining Harvest Hill, the retirement community in Lebanon.

“That was OK,” she said. “He told me what was important.”

“The greatest gift I got from him,” said John Goodrich, now a writer living in Bennington, Vt., “was the idea that masculinity didn’t have to be loud. You didn’t have to be boastful; it could simply be itself. If you were confident in yourself you didn’t have to make sure that everybody knew that — because you knew that. He was very much ahead of his time in many ways, and that was one of them.”

Goodrich was ahead of his time in how he raised his daughters, his son added. Sarah, Elizabeth and Deborah were born before the two boys, and Goodrich, raising them in the 1960s, encouraged them to ignore any societal limitations that lingered over their gender.

“He wanted them all to stand up for themselves, to do things for themselves and not look to marry someone and have them be the breadwinner,” John said. “He wanted them to be the center of their own life and make their own decisions.”

In 1994, Goodrich retired from the utilities business.

He and Pat moved back to Randolph the same year, buying a house not far from Interstate Exit 4, where local developer Jesse “Sam” Sammis owned land. Sammis, in fact, let Goodrich use his land for the archery competitions that the engineer and amateur bowman hosted at home.

Goodrich always was in need of something to keep him busy, his family members said, whether it be building a deck, teaching a budding archer to shoot, or cobbling together an engine from spare parts.

Soon after retirement, he found the Society for Creative Anachronism through an archer friend. Up in Randolph, he joined a local chapter, the “Shire of Panther Vale.”

Panther Vale is a relatively recent creation, having obtained recognition from the SCA’s international headquarters in California in 1995, according to a history on the local group’s website.

The Society for Creative Anachronism is a world unto its own, where participants take honorifics like “seneschal” and “marshal” and, as they acquire knowledge of medieval crafts and history, can found their own principalities and earn noble titles.

The Shire of Panther Vale, for instance, forms part of “The East Kingdom,” covering much of the American Northeast, New England and eastern Canada. The monarchs, who go by Ioannes Aurelius Serpentius and Ro Honig von Sommerfeldt, live in New Jersey.

Their website lists many “Whims and Preferences” of “Their Majesties,” including the following: “While foods containing gluten are delicious, Her Majesty cannot consume them.”

Although Goodrich came into the living history community by chance — Pat says he “slid” in, while John said he was more in it for the archery — he eventually earned recognition from its participants.

A framed document on the wall of the Goodrichs’ apartment at Harvest Hill, handwritten in the style of an illuminated manuscript, announces his election to the “Order of Sagittarius” for his services as an archer.

In 2009, the family created for themselves another piece of calligraphy: a poem, illustrated with a veiled lady and a bowman in Robin Hood getup, commemorating the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary.

What is a marriage after fifty years?

A simply good friendship, or something more?

To have managed a family, friends, two careers

Does attest to a durable rapport.

Goodrich found more ways to occupy himself after retiring to Vermont. One day in 1994, he learned that a former UNH student was now a professor of engineering at Norwich University.

After a visit to nearby Northfield, Vt., Pat recalls, “he came back smiling.”

He had been offered a job. He took it — and went on to spend a decade more doing what he loved: teaching the intricate ways of mechanical things.

Steve Fitzhugh, a professor of electrical engineering who came to Norwich University in 2002, described Goodrich as a mentor.

“He was quiet, but he was very precise as I recall, and he really went out of his way to help students understand material,” Fitzhugh said.

Fitzhugh added that when Goodrich finally retired from Norwich, in 2005, he helped the younger man teach some of his old courses. “I would always call Bob and say, ‘Bob, this isn’t working,’ and Bob would come and help me out.”

Most of all, Pat Goodrich says, her husband’s knack for cultivating younger people’s gifts was a boon to their children.

“He told them they could do anything they wanted,” she said, “and now they’re doing what they wanted. So I think it was a success.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.