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Family, students and successor remember former Crane dean


POTSDAM — Composer and professor, father and husband, traveler and collector; Robert B. Washburn’s life and legacy will be preserved by his work and the memories of those who knew him.

The former dean of SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School of Music died Wednesday at the United Helpers Riverledge facility in Ogdensburg.

“He was a very warm person, a very bright person. Talented. His students loved him and his family loved him,” said his wife of more than 60 years, Beverly D. Washburn.

She remembers living out of a camper with their two children in France and Spain, visiting Africa and Asia. During their world travels they amassed a large collection of exotic instruments and learned more about the natives of wherever they visited.

“We were definitely traveling to see the people and to hear them,” Mrs. Washburn said.

While in Paris, Mr. Washburn studied under Nadia Boulanger, one of the most renowned music instructors of the 20th century.

His compositions have been played in Carnegie Hall, at the White House for John F. Kennedy and during the opening ceremonies of 1980’s Winter Olympics at Lake Placid.

No matter where he went and what he did, he would always bring his experiences back to his classroom at SUNY Potsdam.

“He always backed all his teaching with personal experience,” said Ralph B. Hastings, one of Mr. Washburn’s former students and current president of the Crane School of Music Alumni Board.

“He valued tradition,” Mr. Hastings said. “Not only tradition in music but traditions in teaching.”

Mr. Washburn spent much of his life at Crane. He received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees there, then joined the Air Force during the Korean War. He was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where he and Beverly were married in 1952.

After his service he returned to Potsdam, joining the Crane faculty in 1954. He became dean in 1988, serving until 2000.

The current dean, Michael R. Sitton, said Mr. and Mrs. Washburn continued to attend concerts at the school until Mr. Washburn’s health began to fail.

He remembers visiting their home and seeing the couple’s large collection of foreign instruments.

“Each one of them has a story,” he said.

Mr. Washburn’s world travels, and his specialty in Asian and African music, helped make his work unique, according to Mr. Sitton.

“He soaked that all up, and parts of that come out in his music,” he said.

Crane faculty members are considering a performance in Mr. Washburn’s honor, Mr. Sitton said.

Mr. Washburn was the same person whether he was traveling the world, writing music or teaching in the classroom, according to his wife.

“He was very open with his students and his friends, talking about the people he met,” she said.

“He loved people. He loved what he was doing,” she said. “I just think he was the most wonderful person.”

Calling hours will be from 1 to 4 p.m. today at Seymour Funeral Home in Potsdam.

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