I am shocked and saddened to learn this morning of the accidental death of Rob Woutat on January 11. I was a student of Rob’s over a period of five years at St Paul Academy in St Paul, from the first year he taught English. In addition to English classes with him I was in six plays he directed over my last three years in high school. He wrote me a recommendation that I have no doubt was responsible for my admission to Dartmouth and thereby changed my life entirely for the better. Fortunately for me, Dartmouth required only one teacher recommendation at the time. I owe him. When I returned to the school to teach for the year before I went to law school, Rob was a warm and supportive colleague.
Rob had a dry sense of humor and wonderful clarity in his style. He was a master of understatement. A humble teacher of large enthusiasms — Mark Twain among them — Rob put One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on the reading list to cap off our year studying American literature. At my graduation Rob handed me a gift-wrapped paperback copy of A Treasury of American Political Humor, edited by Leonard Lewin. I just pulled it down from the bookshelf; at $1.25, it is one of the most thoughtful gifts anyone has ever given me.
A few decades ago Rob left the Twin Cities and moved to Bremerton, Washington. He wrote three books there along with a weekly column for the Kitsap Sun, where David Nelson was his editor. Nelson remembers Rob in the column “Saying an unexpected goodbye to Rob Woutat,” with links to several of Rob’s columns.
I had looked forward to seeing Rob turn up at my 50th high school class reunion this year, as he did to our 40th, but I waited too long to reconnect with him. There is a lesson I should have learned long ago in there somewhere.