Robert Martin Isaacs of North Branford, poet, newspaper publisher, college professor, radio-program host and protégé of renowned newspaper reporter/columnist Bob Considine, died Feb. 21 after a short illness.
The son of Jesse Mark and Sophia Lewis Isaacs, he was a native of the Bronx. He attended Herman Ritter Jr. HS in the Bronx, which is known for its many famous alumni.
He was a precocious child and voracious reader. He has said he knew by the time he was eight that he was going to be a poet and writer.
At 16, he was asked to leave the NY public school system after leading a student protest over a coach's salary -- a subject about which he cared little. He got a job at United Press International, as a copyboy/gofer working nights. He later worked for columnist/reporter Considine as Considine covered the A-bomb tests, the founding of the UN and other stories. He said Considine taught him to write.
The reporters and editors convinced him to go back to night school where he took the courses needed to apply to CCNY. He convinced the admissions office to allow him to take the admissions exam despite his poor high school record and scored so high he was offered provisional admission.
He completed his BA in English in 3 years. He also met his future business partner, Joe Odin and his first wife, Sandra Ellen Gonick there. After graduating, he attended NYU where he received his MA in English with a concentration in American literature. As he was completing his thesis on Nathaniel Hawthorne, he was drafted. He did basic training in Ft. Benning, Georgia and then was sent to Ft. Riley in Manhattan, Kansas for advanced training as an order-of-battle specialist. He was posted to Germany where he was part of group that gathered intelligence, recruited refugees from Eastern Europe. He then began work on his doctorate at Loyola of Chicago, specializing in Irish literature and James Joyce.
He found himself unemployed and landed a job in Dundee, Illinois running a chain of small papers. After a few years, he started his own newspaper.
In 1961, he and a college friend purchased The Stratford News, a weekly paper in Stratford, Conn., and also started News Publishing, a printing facility. The Stratford News was one of the first papers in Connecticut to use cold type. When the Stratford Board of Education began considering establishing a community college in 1964, the paper and Isaacs took the forefront in supporting and promoting the idea. In 1966 the college opened under state auspices of Norwalk CC becoming Housatonic CC in 1967.
By 1967 he was teaching at the college part-time--as a teacher in journalism. In 1969 he was a fulltime faculty member in English while also continuing to run the Stratford News which split from News Publishing. He continued in this dual capacity until 1973 when he sold the paper which within 18 months ceased publishing. At HCC, he established the college newspaper and literary magazine, developed a degree program in journalism, and brought in poets from the US including such luminaries as Allen Ginsberg, Galway Kinnell, Adrienne Rich, among others. He received the Distinguished Service Award from the Board of Trustees in 1993.
He retired in 2000 as professor of English - and was given emeritus status. In 2001, he spoke at graduation telling the students how much they had taught him and how much he admired them. He continued teaching on a part-time basis through fall 2012, for a total of 44 years.
He was a published poet. His poetry was widely published in poetry magazines throughout the country and he edited Connecticut River Review, the poetry journal of the Connecticut Poetry Society in the 1980s from which he received awards for his poetry. He had two books of poetry published, Notes to the Diggers, and Triad with fellow Housatonic professors Peter Ulisse and Glenn Kindilien. In 1986, he served as a teaching assistant at the Nathan Mayhew Poetry Seminars on Martha’s Vineyard working with the well-known poet Brendon Galvan.
For many years, he was a theater critic, covering theater in Connecticut and later New York City. He wrote for a variety of newspapers including the Waterbury Republican American and Shore Publications. He was a founding member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and a member of the Outer Critics Circle.
When he retired from HCC in 2000, he and his wife hosted a radio show on WNHU, 88.7 fm. The Memory Lane show featured big bands, Broadway and American classics standards. The audience enjoyed his deep love and knowledge of the music and particularly his enjoyment of the music of Fats Waller.
Besides his wife, Karen( Klebe), he leaves three children Dr. Randi Ellen Isaacs (Michael Zaidel) of Basking Ridge, NJ, Stephanie Erin Kilburn (Lance) of North Branford and Aric Matthew Isaacs (Julia Chaffe) of New Haven; four granddaughters - Shannon Courtney Kilburn, Kirsten Elizabeth Kilburn, Morgan Alexandra Zaidel, Jessie Lynn Kilburn; his two beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniels Vivvy and Ruggles; and a brother Alan Isaacs (Lynn) of Hedgesville, W.V.
For a man who claimed to hate dogs and kids, he was devoted not only to his children and grandchildren -- and extremely proud of each of them -- but also to his dogs.
The family requests that memorials be donated to Connecticut Hospice in Branford or the Housatonic Community College Foundation. A memorial service will be held at a later date.
Information courtesy of Keenan Funeral Home