Ralph P. Pettie
Ralph Parsons Pettie, 82, a longtime English teacher at Greenwich High School, died in Brewer, Me., on June 20. Ralph lived in the nearby town of Blue Hill.
The younger son of the late Florence Parsons and Charles Edward Pettie, both parents Canadian-born and raised, Ralph was born on Feb. 3, 1933 in Brewer, then taken home to Bucksport. He attended Bucksport schools until the age of 14, when his family moved to Bangor; Ralph graduated from Bangor High School in 1951. He applied to and was accepted at Boston University, but decided instead to attend West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, W.Va. There, he received his bachelor’s degree in English in 1955 and, on scholarship, was immediately accepted for graduate study, also in English, at the University of Maine in Orono. He received his master’s degree in 1956, after completing a thesis on the American playwright Eugene O’Neill.
Charles Dickens once wrote, “Regrets are the natural property of gray hairs.” Ralph Pettie had a lifelong love for animals, domestic and wild, but particularly domestic. The one great regret in his gray-haired years was that he had insufficient room to make a home for more unloved, unwanted animals. He wished he could have owned several acres of land in the country, where animals of all kinds could have found a safe and warm environment, but that was clearly not to Instead he gave generous financial support on both the local and national levels to animal welfare agencies and shelters.
Ralph served his country for two years in the U.S. Army before accepting a teaching position in the Greenwich public school system, where he taught English for 34 years and served as an advisor for the high school literary magazine. In 1989 he was nominated for and recognized by the school administration with a Distinguished Teacher citation. He retired from teaching in 1992 and returned to Maine. He moved into Parker Ridge, a retirement community in Blue Hill, just 15 miles southwest of the small coastal town where he grew up.
While Ralph enjoyed traveling in his early teaching years and made several trips to the lands of his ancestors— Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland—he visited the European continent only once, in 1982. During his Connecticut years, he made frequent trips into New York City to attend theater and musical events and to visit art galleries. A lifelong Anglophile, he loved British writers and spent two summer vacations in the mid- 80s at Cambridge University in England, teaching American high school students about the writers of his favorite periods of English literature: the 19th century Romantic and the Victorian. But at least part of every summer vacation involved a return trip to Maine to visit family and friends.
He enjoyed amateur writing when he wasn’t reading or listening mostly to classical music. Three of his favorite composers were Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn; he shared a birthday with the last.
Ralph believed that Dustin and William Farnum, two famous early 20th century actor brothers who grew up in Bucksport, had not received proper recognition for their theater and film careers, and so he set to writing a book, published in 2000, entitled “The Farnum Brothers of Bucksport.” Between them, the Farnum brothers made almost 200 movies in the early days of filmdom. The older brother, Dustin, is buried in Silver Lake Cemetery in Bucksport. This quiet cemetery, overlooking serene Silver Lake, always struck Ralph as a real-life counterpart to the cemetery in Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town.” It is here that Ralph’s ashes were interred. Ralph is survived by his brother, Robert Pettie, of Glenmont, N.Y., and by two nephews (and their families), Mark Pettie of Woodcliff Lake, N.J., and David Pettie of Delmar, N.Y. Ralph is also survived by several cousins in Maine, New York, and Canada. To honor Ralph’s love of animals, those who wish to do so may send a memorial contribution to the Bangor Humane Society, 693 Mt. Hope Avenue, Bangor, ME 04401. Condolences may be expressed at www.jordanfernald.com.