Farewell to Three Northampton Stalwarts:
Bob August, Sam Freedman, Ted Squires
By Edward Shanahan
One week, three obituaries, and three men from varied walks of life pass on.
It is so interesting to recall encounters with all of them; they probably never met each other, had completely different interests and backgrounds, and yet lived within the same community at one time or another.
It was a result of our decades-long annual and always frustrating quest for the perfect Christmas tree that first took us to Nasami Farm in Whately that we first ran into its proprietor Bob August and his wife Nancy. It was likely a warm sunny late October weekend that he led us through his field of live trees. The experience was so perfect and the resulting tree that we tagged so uniformly good when it was cut and taken home several weeks later, that we returned year after year.
Bob’s meticulous record-keeping allowed us to determine each year what species of tree we had selected previously and enabled us to figure out what kind of tree we might try next. Our leisurely walks through the fields with him and discussions about tree farming were always informative and seemed to convey the sense he was trustworthy steward of the productive land he was so fortunate to own.
Gradually, the tree farm expanded to become a nursery and, as a result, we enjoy having around our home perennial reminders – in the form of rhododendrons and azaleas and butterfly bushes - and of Bob and Nasami Farm.
From a personal standpoint, we were somewhat disappointed when the farm was donated to the New England Wildflower Society, and we had to give up our autumnal visits, but, in the larger sense, it meant the farm would be in good hands for perpetuity. This is about the best result one might hope for the Augusts’ labors. And we even have plants in our garden that came from the Nasami Farm in is new incarnation.
Later on Bob kept in touch with us from time to time on behalf of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture), a local organization he vigorously supported. Bob was only 65 when he died.
Sam Freedman, on the other hand, was 93 and his life was such a rich one, we could only know the tiniest bit about him as a fellow book dealer. We came to know that aspect of his life through our encounters when he visited my bookstore in Florence or when we ran into each other at book fairs in various regions of New England.
We knew of his specialty in collecting and selling books on and about the theater through his business, Lyman Books, but we also learned from him about his personal library of priceless material by and about George Bernard Shaw, which now resides at Boston College, and his later passion for books about Napoleon.
Yet it was robustly leftwing politics – so at odds with his earlier professional life as a Springfield businessman in the furniture trade – that produced long discussions, debates even, about history, social and economic trends. These encounters, more than bookish matters, forged a bond between us that I valued. Beside his politics, Sam had devoted a good deal of his non-business life to the arts, involved, as he was, in creating the StageWest theater in Springfield, which became quite celebrated far beyond this region.
Every time I ended spending a half-hour or so with Sam, I felt better. He never lost his passion for the possibility of positive change in the world. I also had the sense that he had experienced so much in so many different aspects of his life that very little could surprise him. He always seemed to have a clear-eyed focus even as the aging process took its toll, keeping up an exhausting commitment to travel, far and wide.
At one time, he and his wife Peggy operated their book business during the summers in Otis, moving into Northampton for the winter. Asked if he was worried that his extremely valuable books might be vulnerable to theft or damage by rural vandals, he replied that he had no concerns on that score. He simply posted a sign at their home stating: BOOKS. That seemed to be an iron-clad deterrent to any mischief or larceny.
I should mention that Sam had a sense of humor.
As long as I have lived in Florence, I can recall seeing Ted Squires, erect in bearing and patrician in appearance, out and about in the village. But I never knew who he was or why he was such a ubiquitous figure in the community.
That is until we moved away and then returned; then he and I would bump into each other at the Post Office or he would pop into the bookstore and comment on some piece of writing of mine when I was producing a newspaper column.
Gentleman is an old fashioned term because it hardly applies to any of us any more. Ted Squires was a gentleman, in the sense he was courtly and self-effacing, less interested in offering his opinion or thrusting himself and his experiences into the forefront of a conversation. Rather he was curious. He preferred to ask questions, to gain information, to acquire knowledge of subjects that were new to him.
Like Sam Freeman, Ted Squires lived a long and productive life, being 98 when he died. A Yale University graduate, he spent much of his working life in Florence as a sales executive during the glory days at Pro Brush, which was cranking out hundreds of thousands of tooth brushes every day and employing at its peak nearly 1,500 workers on three shifts.
He retained a great affection for the brush company long after it had fallen from its peak of activity and success, as a consequence of changing consumer tastes coupled with ownership changes and management missteps. Ted Squires was, above all, loyal - to his former employer, to his community and to his church, St. John’s Episcopal.
My discussions with Ted Squires were never political or polemical. That was not his nature. Gracious, old school, civilized, and dignified are descriptive terms that are rarely applied to most people we come in contact these days.
Yet, they are totally apt for the late Ted Squires, a gentleman to the core.
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