Robert Charles DeBlois (Rob)
Died peacefully, surrounded by his family, at home in Seekonk, on January 31st.
Born in Providence, RI, he was the son of the late Arthur J. DeBlois, Jr. and Eleanor Hyland DeBlois.
He is survived by his wife of 39 years, Bonnie DeBlois, his son Justin DeBlois and his wife Ivonne, of Belchertown, MA, his son Eric DeBlois of Seekonk, his daughter Sherry DeBlois of Stuart, FL., his brothers Arthur DeBlois III and his wife Paula, John DeBlois and his wife Carol, and Mark DeBlois and his wife Chris. Also, many nieces and nephews, great nieces and great nephews.
Rob grew up in Pawtucket, RI, listening to the lions roar at Slater Park Zoo, close to his home. He loved hanging out in Countryside, at Tarpy’s Pond, or Slater Park, and as a teenager worked cleaning boilers or painting gas stations for the family business, DeBlois Oil.
He attended Cranwell Prep School in Lennox, Massachusetts, where he developed friendships which lasted a lifetime. Here he realized the power of community and brotherhood. He then attended the University of New Hampshire, which is where he met his wife, Bonnie. It was Halloween of 1972 - he was a Revolutionary soldier, and she was a witch’s hat, a variation on a theme which continued for the next10 years. Durham is also where he broke his neck diving into a river, leaving him a quadriplegic. He later went on to earn a Masters in English from Brown University, a Masters in Education from Rhode Island College, and an Honorary Doctor of Pedagogy from Rhode Island College.
After completing his degree at UNH, Rob began teaching English at Bishop Keough High School in Pawtucket, and began working at Upward Bound, a college prep program for first generation college students. He developed a relationship with Ted Sizer, founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools and the Annenberg Institute for School Reform. This led to Rob’s intense focus on creating programs to serve urban kids at serious risk of dropping out of school. Rob always said he was the lucky one, and that he had less to overcome than the students who attended the programs he founded.
In 1984 Rob founded SPIRIT, a summer program for urban students, which took place in collaboration with four local independent schools, using their campuses and facilities. Rob being Rob, this was not enough. From SPIRIT grew two schools - Blackstone Academy, and UCAP. Drawing on his great strength in bringing people together, in 1989 he founded UCAP, an independent public middle school whose purpose is to identify and intervene in the education of students who are at serious risk of not completing high school. Rob, a creative thinker and non-conformist, who never cared about norms or paid much attention to inconvenient “rules”, created UCAP before the idea of charter schools came on the educational scene. Through pure doggedness and determination, he built a community of public and private support which has lifted UCAP into a model for public education. He was a demanding, yet forgiving, principal and team leader as he worked tirelessly to develop and improve UCAP. In all of this, his sense of humor and mischievous spirit endeared him to those he worked with, and made working with him fun - always a goal of his. He never lost his youthful point of view, which made him a constant advocate for his students. In fact, having fun is included in UCAP’s mission statement. Rob always said that what was needed was for society as a whole to stop looking at at-risk students as “other people’s children” and embrace them as their own.
During all this, Rob found the time to contribute to numerous other organizations, serving on the boards of Special Olympics, PARI, the Wheeler School, Community Prep School, Summerbridge Program, Kids Count, the Seekonk Library Trust, the Mission and Social Action board of the Seekonk Congregational Church, and many others. He received numerous awards and recognitions. Among his most treasured were the National Caring Award, the 2000 Rhode Island Middle School Principal of the Year, The Martin Luther KIng, Jr. Hall of Fame Award, and the 2018 Murray Family Prize. Rob was also a life-long prolific writer, with many published articles on both education and life in general. He valued intellectual curiosity, and wrote on a wide range of topics. He always said not to confuse school with education.
Rob was a force of nature. He would say he was “born on third base,” and his sense of justice and the responsibility to give something back led him into the field of education and bolstered his extraordinary accomplishments. His creativity and capacity for imagination seemed limitless. Tolerant and forgiving, he always found a way around seemingly insurmountable challenges, including physical ones. His embrace of liberal values made gatherings with his more conservative family lively, yet loving. The quick give and take of ideas and good-natured insults was a sight to see. In fact, history and politics were also life-long interests, and he was an activist for causes dear to his heart.
Always a free spirit, Rob enjoyed new experiences with a whole- hearted appreciation for what life could bring. Due to his physical limitations he learned to accept help gracefully, giving us the gift of helping him. He loved his family (including his golden retrievers) and friends above all. Before his accident he loved hiking and skiing in the White Mountains, and continued to head north as often as possible, reveling in watching his children develop the same appreciation for skiing, hiking, and nature, that he had. Friends in Franconia gave him and his family the use of their accessible home at Mittersill, and it became the preferred family vacation spot.
Rob considered himself a very lucky man. He attributed much of his success to those with whom he worked, his family, and his wife and soul-mate. One of his proudest accomplishments was conveying his values of social justice and tolerance to his children. As he liked to say, “you go where you are needed.”
Calling hours will be held at the Manning-Heffern Funeral Home, 68 Broadway, Pawtucket on Friday, February 7, from 4 to 7 PM.
A Memorial Service will be held at the Seekonk Congregational Church, 600 Fall River Avenue, on Saturday, February 8 at 10:00 AM.
Memorial contributions may be made to UCAP, 75 Carpenter St., Providence, RI 02903 (www.UCAP.org) or to the Seekonk Congregational Church Memorial Fund, 600 Fall River Ave. Seekonk, MA 02771
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