Robert M. Cross ’45, H’89, Secretary of the College Emeritus, whose prolific correspondence defined graciousness for generations of Bowdoin alumni, died July 15, 2012, in Brunswick.
He was equally eloquent writing words of solace or solicitation; the late President LeRoy Greason called Cross’s thank you letters “masterpieces.” Cross wrote in a 1957 letter: “I like to write whether it is letters for the Class of 1945 in the Bowdoin Alumni Fund, or the annual letter asking Lambda Zetes for support of the Lambda, or the annual Cross Christmas letter, or just plain letters. I think that letter writing has become something of a lost art.” If so, it is not because of the Crosses. Bowdoin correspondence has borne the Cross name for more than 70 years: His father, Leroy D. Cross H’84 was faculty secretary from 1942 until his retirement in 1965, and his son, John Cross ’76, serves as Secretary of Development and College Relations. Robert Cross was born in Augusta on February 10, 1924, and graduated from Brunswick High School. He enrolled at Bowdoin in the fall of 1941 as a State of Maine Scholar but left during World War II to serve two years in a code-breaking unit of the Army Signals Intelligence Service in North Africa and Italy, attaining the rank of technician 4th grade. Following the war, he returned to Bowdoin, where he won two letters in track as a pole vaulter and was a three-time James Bowdoin scholar. He was a member of Zeta Psi fraternity and was the winner of the Class of 1875 Prize in American History and the Almon Goodwin Phi Beta Kappa Prize. He graduated summa cum laude with honors in English in 1947, remaining a member of the Class of 1945, and was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Under an O’Brien Graduate Scholarship from Bowdoin, he enrolled at the Harvard Graduate University School of Arts and Sciences and earned a master’s degree in English in 1948. He taught Latin and algebra at Cape Elizabeth High School for a year before returning to Bowdoin in 1950, first as an English teaching fellow and then as an instructor in l95l. In 1953, he began working in the alumni office as administrative assistant to the vice president, editing the alumni magazine until 1965 and The Whispering Pines from 1962 until he retired. He served as Secretary of the Alumni Fund from 1959 until 1983, when President Greason appointed him Secretary of the College, a position he held until his retirement in 1990. He was the Old Guard’s Class Agent in the Alumni Fund for more than 50 years and was 1945’s Class Agent from 1954 to 1962. Each year, the Alumni Council presents the Robert M. Cross Award to “the class agent or agents whose hard work and loyalty to Bowdoin are deserving of special recognition.” Bowdoin honored him for his “service and devotion to Bowdoin” in 1972 with the Alumni Award for Faculty and Staff, and awarded him an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1989 for his many contributions, including “bringing the College to vivid life for Bowdoin men and women everywhere.” He was a member of First Parish Church in Brunswick (UCC), where he served as a deacon, historian, and clerk over the years. He also organized class reunions for the Brunswick High School Class of 1941. He and his wife were Maine State track officials for many years, and an award in their name is given annually to a member of the Bowdoin women’s team who displays outstanding qualities of loyalty, sportsmanship, and character. He is survived by his wife of nearly 64 years, Jeannette Steele Cross; sons Peter M. Cross ’72 and John R. Cross ’76; daughter Suzanne C. Barton; five grandchildren, and sister Marjorie C. Buschner. He was predeceased by brothers Donald L. Cross ’43 and Kenneth L. Cross ’50 and grandson Ethan R. Barton.