With deep sadness I announce the passing of Reverend Albert W. Tarbell on December 26th this past year, a day before his 103rd birthday. Albert, as I came to know him, was the oldest living Bowdoin alum, but most importantly an individual of great compassion and understanding. It would behoove all of us to learn not only of his life but from his life and that is the intention with which I write as much as it was in my visit days before his death.
So often it is said by old timers that growing up is not what it used to be, which holds some water in a old New England home with boarded chimneys, a coal stove, and fifteen hungry mouths. In Bangor, Maine, Albert began to sprout the wings of youth and in doing so gained a thirst for learning. Although an older brother of his was currently attending it can assuredly be said that his steps to the Pines’ fields and fraternities were not followed.
Albert’s greatest achievements came after his graduation in 1932. He attended the Yale Drama School after which he had a wonderful career as a theater actor until his drafting into the Army during World War II. He found a second successful career serving intelligence in Europe and then Japan, but the horrors of the war were to have a deep and lasting impression. After being assigned to Kirkland Airforce Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Albert retired in 1956 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
In aiming to reinvigorate his faith in the goodness of the human spirit, Albert attended the General Theological Seminary in New York whose studies rivaled Bowdoin’s. As one of the oldest students in attendance he struggled in learning Greek and Latin but persevered. Once again arriving to the Land of Enchantment Albert started a new Episcopal Church and served at the local Cathedral, giving weekly communion until the age of 100 years.
I would like to say that I am not only impressed by the fact that Albert made his mark at each employment but that he also found purpose in each commitment. Drawing from past success he confidently took steps and risks forward, accepting presented challenges, and overcoming hardships with more than just tenacity and nothing less than humanity. As an individual as well as a Reverend, Albert found for himself and others meaning in more than a century of life.
It is on the verge of such a past of generosity, greatness, and progress that we become young men and women on the verge of a future. To reiterate, the brighter future we all hope for is dependent on actions and lessons past. In this the truth of the saying “The past is what you make it” lies in the present. So I’d like to think that on the behalf of Albert W. Tarbell that my words reach out to the young and the old, may you make each day one worth living for yourself and for others.
Regrettably I did not have more time to get to know Albert in person outside of a brief visit and monthly correspondence. Despite this sadness or perhaps because of it I am incredibly grateful for the financial aid he gave me, for my small repayments of appreciation, and the time we were given. I am glad to have found such a connection for which the benefits were many and the costs I readily paid. Of this effort a great deal is owed to his grand-niece Caroline Kennedy (‘82) who facilitated the sharing of our lives and stories. As a senior I urgently encourage other students to reach out to alum selflessly if not to thank them for aid to at least to remind each other of the bonds we hold in our community. May your impression of others be as cherished as the one I hold of Reverend Albert W. Tarbell.