May 20, 1949 – July 21, 2019 Richard Sassaman, the chronicler of our daily lives, died suddenly on Sunday night.
Born to Margaret and George Sassaman in Pittsburgh, Pa., Richard spent his earliest life moving around the East Coast every few years until his family finally settled in Harrisburg, Pa.
After high school, and to avoid the draft, he enrolled at Duke University, taking his collection of 300 record albums with him. Needless to say, his dorm mates spent most of their time in his room listening to music and to Richard telling them interesting and unusual facts. (When he dropped out the following year his friends’ grades improved dramatically.)
He was drafted, but the Army decided it didn’t want him anyway. So he moved back to Harrisburg, where he worked for an alternative newspaper, writing reviews of movies, books and music — enlarging his already large collection of albums to heroic proportions.
When a friend needed his writing skills, he moved to Seattle, where he edited books and pamphlets for her small alternative energy co-operative. His desk there faced that of the organization’s environmental designer, Susan Gross. With a combination of jokes, unusual facts and downright annoyance, he sneakily wormed his way into her heart. Before she knew what hit her they were traveling around the country together in an old electrician’s van while Richard wrote U.S. travel and history articles for over 80 different magazines including Air & Space/Smithsonian, Yankee, Travel & Leisure, Playboy and Sports Illustrated. In the course of his career he visited every state in the United States while passing through more than 70 percent of the nation’s counties.
As their parents aged, Richard and Susan moved back to Pennsylvania to care for them, spending their time living with his parents in Harrisburg and hers near Philadelphia. When their parents upped sticks and retired to Florida the pair was left homeless. Luckily he had a younger sister who had just bought land in Bar Harbor. So, in 1986, northward they came to build a house within hailing distance of hers.
Richard soon became a fixture in the area, involving himself with many people and organizations and helping out where he could — editing final project papers for COA students, drumming in local bands, driving for Island Connections, taking on the moniker “Deckhand Dick” as a crew member on Diver Ed’s boat, photographing friends’ weddings, volunteering at the polls and using his writing skills to help out many nonprofit organizations. And always, always checking out books from every library he could reach to collect even more odd and unusual information. In the pre-Google days he was his friends’ reference section. If you couldn’t find the answer, “No problem, just call Richard.” He would always know and would show them an article from his files on the subject.
In 1993, he read every Bar Harbor Times Police Beat from 1979 to 1988 (and most of the other articles as well while he was at it) and published his book, “The Bar Harbor Police Beat,” a collection of the best and quirkiest of the column.
Also in 1993, Richard and Susan (well, mostly Susan, really) gave birth to their son Ezra. Richard always told Ezra that he was their favorite son and Ezra’s conspicuous lack of siblings lent credibility to this compliment.
When WMDI, the local radio station, started up, Richard was asked to host “Bar Harbor Beat,” a weekly broadcast where he interviewed local residents about their various and sundry vocations and avocations. He was interested in everyone and everything.
Richard was a night owl, saying he’d read that the most stressful hours of the day were between 6 a.m. and noon, so he avoided those times by sleeping through them. For years he was the unnatural naturalist on the Island Lighthouse Tour boat, presenting the historical information about the area to the tourists while trying to avoid questions about the wildlife. When the schedule changed and they told him he needed to be on the boat at 7 a.m. he decided to end that career.
Soon afterward he acquired his perfect job — getting paid for reading books. He summarized them for a friend to inform her political advocacy work.
Those familiar with Richard know that he was never without a small spiral notebook and a pen in his pocket. Everything was recorded — names, odd facts, quotes, things to look up later. And every notebook was saved. But how many were there in total? Finding the cache of notebooks in his overstuffed office will be a Herculean task for another time.
Richard was a font of knowledge, a quick wit, a talented drummer, a first class photographer and an abysmal handyman. He thoroughly enjoyed spending time with his friends, but even more so enjoyed his time alone at night to sort through everything he’d learned each day. He kept us laughing and informed — whether we wanted to be informed or not.
This week, as we have been celebrating his life we suddenly realized that Richard would be the one recording, in his notebooks and with his camera, all the people who have stopped in to talk and console and tell stories and share food with his family. Our town’s chronicler is gone, but will never be forgotten.
Richard is survived by his wife, Susan; his son, Ezra; his siblings, Susan, Bob and Barbara; his nieces and nephews, Jennifer, Steven, Benjamin, Kerry and their children.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Richard’s honor to:
Graceful Aging Program c/o Acadia Community Association, 80 Mt.Desert Street, Bar Harbor.
Jesup Library: jesuplibrary.org.
A Climate To Thrive: aclimatetothrive.org.
Arrangements by Jordan-Fernald, 1139 Main St., Mount Desert. Condolences may be expressed at www.jordanfernald.com.