WOODBURY — Robert Lester "Bobby" Curtis died Sunday, November 10, 2019 after a long illness.
Bobby was born June 26,1938 in New Britain, the son of Lester G. Curtis and Edith Rittner. He graduated from New Britain High School in 1956, served two years in the U.S. Army in Germany and attended the University of Bridgeport. For more than 30 years, he was employed as an engineer for the Perkin-Elmer Corporation, Norwalk.
In the mid-1960s, he was sent on a job for the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where he enjoyed five days on the Range and weekends making music in Alamogordo. Bobby had been playing the five-string banjo and guitar since high school. The folk music revival was on and informal gatherings were common.
But Bobby's playbook was not the polished work of the Kingston Trio. He was singing the Dust Bowl ballads of Woody Guthrie, the country music of the Carter Family and playing the bluegrass tunes of Earl Scruggs. These songs and the singer struck a chord with a lady in the group there, Judy Irete. They later married and made music together in the years to come, traveling to festivals in their yellow '63 VW convertible named "Mello Yello." Music was always handy in the house, the car and the workshop, everything from Gene Autry to Joe Beck.
Bobby took an early retirement to pursue his new interest in sea kayaking. He loved paddling in the ocean. He was an active member of the Connecticut and New York sea kayak clubs. Alone, in the early 90s, he circumnavigated Prince Edward Island... before GPS.
Realizing that most kayaks were too large for him, he began designing and building his own. He built a 21-foot, wooden, stitch and glue sea kayak for himself over each winter for nine years. A little Jotel wood stove provided the heat in his workshop with a cat curled up nearby. He sold or bartered his plans under the name Sea Spirit Kayaks. His website showed the steps in the construction process. He had customers from as far away as New Zealand.
He loved working on his 200-year-old house on Scratchville Road. The first years he built the workshop and the addition on the west side, later switching the bathroom and the kitchen locations. Leaving the large kitchen sink in the "new" bathroom was a nice touch. He relished the challenge of problem solving, the designing of a solution and then the completion of his many projects over the years.
While he and Judy were divorced for almost 25 years, some connecting threads remained. They remarried after Bobby's minor stroke in 2010. They enjoyed going to plays, concerts, museums in New York City as well as events in Connecticut.
In 2016, he traveled alone for a month by train to California and back. He hiked in Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks. In Kansas he visited the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Brown vs. Board of Ed Historic Site and the National World War I Museum. He stepped out onto "The Ledge" in Chicago and roamed around the rusted hulks of the once great steel mills in Pittsburgh. His last hike at Hidden Valley was on Memorial Day 2019.
He was a friend of Bill W.
Bobby was a reader. His last book was "Sapiens." As volunteers for the last year and a half, he and Judy mended books weekly for the Woodbury Public Library. He loved old movies and radio programs from the 40s. For over 50 years, he enjoyed the company of cats — Arlo, Woody, Lamont, Benny, Curry, Duffy, Murph, Sam, and now Nelly, who grieves.
He is survived by his wife, Judy Irete; sisters-in-law, Angela D. Curtis and Anne M Irete; nephews Richard F. Curtis, Robert S. Curtis and Joseph A. Michetti, Jr.; nieces Cindy A. Curtis Nelson and Tanya A. Michetti; five great-nephews and four great-nieces.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Lester G. and Edith Curtis, and by his fraternal twin, Richard F. Curtis.
A celebration of his life will take place at the house next spring. Arrangements are by Munson Lovetere Funeral Home.
Donations in Bobby's memory may be made to the Steep Rock Association, 2 Green Hill Rd., Washington 06793.
To leave an online condolence, visit www.munsonloveterefuneralhome.com.