Obituary: Ethan Wyatt Bisbee, 1928‑2021 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Ethan Wyatt Bisbee, 1928‑2021 

Longtime educator had a noble career and a happy life

Published January 27, 2021 at 6:30 a.m. | Updated January 27, 2021 at 1:12 p.m.

click to enlarge Ethan Bisbee - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Ethan Bisbee

Born the fourth of six children by Dorothy Winsor Bisbee and Elliot Walter Bisbee in Concord, Mass., Ethan was well educated at home alongside his five siblings: Ricky, Alice, John, Joyce and Tom.

He attended the Fenn School and graduated from the Middlesex School in 1946. He continued his studies at Harvard University, receiving his AB in government cum laude in 1950 and AM in history in 1961. Typically and thankfully, he repaid these gifts many times over, teaching diligently at Milton Academy from 1953 to 1993.

Ethan married Mary Susan Gongaware on September 10, 1955, and they were delighted to raise Ann Scheffler, Liz Bisbee and Fred Bisbee.

Arriving just before the Great Depression and too young for service in the Second World War, Ethan was definitive of his generation. He valued thrift, reserve, responsibility and community, believing that citizenship is a job, not a grant.

Though born in the flatlands of Massachusetts, his heart surely belongs to his family home, Fisher Hill, in Vermont. This is where so much family history, and little else, takes place. Most summer evenings would find him there "holding court," if not literally grasping a tennis racquet or croquet mallet, then perhaps a drink on his lovely terraced porch. Summer days were well spent, as Ethan could leave few tasks untried and fewer unfinished, and he was brave enough to share them. Whether Ethan was putting up firewood or vegetables, or advancing a trench, argument or stonewall, the hours passed easily and richly in his cheerful presence.

At Milton Academy, Ethan started somewhat green, with great colleagues, and learned the job on the job. He never stopped learning, and so excelled. He taught history, both U.S. and world; brought current events into discussion; and tried to draw out the reluctant speaker or student as a worthy equal. Always a coach, long an adviser, he went on to teach economics and to chair the history department. Committed to the notion that one must "earn his keep" and trusting himself enough to think he had something to offer, Ethan contributed much. He sought opportunities to meet students he might never teach, attending a tea, lecture or performance; supervising a film; proctoring an exam; or simply timing his crossing of the street. Amazingly, looking back, Ethan and Sue even housed students, outnumbered at times. Ethan loved his wonderful office with its doors opening to the hallway and classroom, and he often welcomed visitors there with his long-faced, toothy grin.

In retirement, Ethan and Sue spent winters in Westerly, R.I., and summers in Fayston, Vt. For years, both enjoyed each other, their larger family and the longer growing season, and they led active, fit lives. Ethan maintained woodland walking trails in Westerly, volunteered in Mystic at the Seaport Museum (mostly employed in the woodshop and its adjacent lumber yard), and assisted the Vermont Historical Society in researching and archiving. For a few good years, Ethan could taunt his younger brother Tom and his wife, Marty, about the impending school year, but he tried to be mindful of this same fate befalling his faithful daughter Liz. Retirement allowed Ethan more time to connect with friends, and he loved doing so. He kept well informed and helped raise four grandchildren.

After his wife Sue died, Ethan — acutely aware of her vast absence and his many deficiencies — began life at the retirement community of Wake Robin in Shelburne, Vt. He was much welcomed there by many, greatly and repeatedly in many small ways, but most by his brother John and his wife, Brenda. A year later, Ethan lost his eldest daughter, Ann, to cancer. Though he worked through much grief and continued to stay involved, he was never the same. He died independently and peacefully, having fulfilled a noble career and a happy life.

Ethan is survived by his brother John Bisbee and his wife, Brenda; his brother Tom Bisbee and his wife, Martha; and his sister-in-law Emily Patten. He leaves several cousins; 17 nephews; 10 nieces; his son-in-law Ed Scheffler; his daughter Liz Bisbee; his son and daughter-in-law Fred and Lisa Bisbee; and his grandchildren Ted Scheffler, Ethan Scheffler, Eloise Bisbee and Quinn Bisbee.

Much thanks to John Woodruff of Perkins-Parker Funeral Home of Waterbury, Vt.

Though no service is planned, the family will gather to celebrate Ethan when conditions permit.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that gifts could be directed to a worthy local need. For those who knew him through Milton Academy, he would probably most wish to support the faculty or their development. The address remains 170 Centre St., Milton, MA 02186.

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