Obituary: Robert Friedman

Great-grandfather, art lover, social justice warrior, environmentalist, friend

Robert (Bob) Friedman, a 10-year Claremotn resident, died January 9, 2018 at the age of 88.

Bob was born in 1929 to Jessamine and Clarence Friedman in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from Brooklyn High School, he spent several years working in agriculture, where one of his favorite jobs was in a tomato processing plant.

He left home at the age of 17 and traveled the country, spending time working various odd and interesting jobs. He was an extra with New York’s Metropolitan Opera, built fences and sold magazines door-to-door in Texas, among many other short-term vocations. He wrote many witty and endearing stories about this time of his life.

During the Korean War, Mr. Friedman served in the United States Army, and was stationed on Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands. In 1955, he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science, with a major in Far Eastern studies, from the University of California, Berkeley. He did his post graduate work in agriculture at UC Davis. His time at Berkeley instilled in him a sense of activism that stayed alive his entire life.

After graduating from UC Davis, Mr. Friedman began his career with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Crownpoint and Gallup, New Mexico. In 1958, he married his first wife, Meredith Luther, with whom he had four children: John, Katherine, Margaret and Elizabeth. Throughout his life, he was actively involved in the lives of his children, remaining quite close always.

In 1962, he and his wife, along with their first two children, headed to Vietnam, where he held a civilian position with the US State Department as a rural development officer. He set off with high hopes of using his knowledge and skills in agriculture and irrigation to help the rural people living and farming in South Vietnam. Two years later, with the reality of the position in Vietnam far different from what he had expected or hoped for, he returned with his family—which now included a third child—to New Mexico. His first wife, now Meredith Kopald, worked with him for the last six months of his life as the co-author of a publication detailing their fascinating time in Vietnam in the early 1960s.

After returning from Vietnam, he resumed work for the BIA. In 1969, he was appointed superintendent of the Eight Northern New Mexico Indian Pueblos. In that position, he was most proud of his role in successfully negotiating the return of Blue Lake to the Taos Pueblo Indians.

After retiring, he and his second wife, Palmyra Lomonaco, moved to Durham, North Carolina, where they were involved in local politics and supported music and arts in the area. The couple spent summers in Lamoine, Maine, a place dear to Mr. Friedman’s heart, and where he felt most at home. He spent his summers in their abundant garden, tending to a field of lupines, kayaking on the Skillings River, and communing with loons.

In 2008, the couple moved to Claremont to be close to family. He devoted the last decade of his life to caring for his wife, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and early stage Parkinson’s. He was buoyed by much time with family and friends, enjoying nothing more than a good, stiff drink at Walter’s Restaurant, a plate of anything made of chocolate, and stimulating conversation.

Mr. Friedman will be remembered for his devotion to his family and friends. He was kind, a good listener, and he kept the confidence of those who trusted him, his family shared. He was a keen observer of people, situations and politics, and loved to comment with his unique brand of wit and humor. He was a pun-loving guy, and a master at wordplay. Wherever he went, people liked him. Befriended by people from all walks of life, he was genuinely interested in their stories, and always worked to make people feel respected, valued and loved. 

Mr. Friedman continuously fought for social justice, the environment and good public television. He loved the arts, and supported them everywhere he lived. He loved nature and the outdoors, and committed much of his time, resources and careers to protecting the environment, promoting good stewardship of our earth and honoring the special relationship and heritage that people around the world have with their land. He is deeply missed by his family and friends.

Mr. Friedman was preceded in death by his second wife, Palmyra, in August 2017. He is survived by his children, John, Katherine, Margaret and Elizabeth, their spouses, and his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A celebration of his life will be held in Claremont on February 20, 2018. For information, email katididd@live.com.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center at splcenter.org, The Parkinson’s Foundation at parkinson.org, or the Alzheimer’s Association at alz.org.

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