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Alexander John Forbes

Alexander John Forbes

5 octubre, 1969 - 16 abril, 2021

Biografía


Alex was a writer and a sailor, a scholar and keeper of traditional wooden boat ways, a horseman, a small plane pilot and a mountain climber, a patternmaker, a woodworker, a logistician and a teacher. He was a lover of language and story, of beauty and quiet. He was an inventor and an explorer of worlds.


Alex grew up on boats. For years his summer job was ferrying folks between Southwest Harbor and Greenings Island, Maine, aboard the lobster boat Annie T, he was a rigger on the team at Mystic Seaport that recreated the Amistad, he served aboard the tall ship Californian, he skippered the classic schooner Voyager from Morocco to the Caribbean. And he was known for his own boat—all along the Downeast coast and the length of the Salish Sea people who didn’t know Alex personally knew the unforgettable sight of Bucephalus coming in under sail, or walking away with a race the smallest of her class had no right to win, or executing a graceful figure eight to get a better look at another pretty boat.


Alex paid attention to how things are made and what they mean—boats, clocks, stories, adventures, friendships. To him, loving something meant taking care of it, and he developed an extraordinary range of skills and knowledge in order to do right by the various people, places and passions he collected over the years. When he couldn’t find a fitting he needed for Bucephalus, Alex taught himself patternmaking and was so good at it, the foundry wound up hiring him to produce rare and one-of-a-kind pieces. Introduced to a passion for the outdoors through The Athenian School, Alex scaled Aconcagua in Argentina, sea kayaked off the coast of Baja, and spent seasons climbing in the Sierras and in his beloved Death Valley. He went on to teach at the National Outdoor Leadership School and he returned to Athenian for many years to do logistical planning and field work for their wilderness program, leaving as lasting a positive impression on the school as it did on him. He first trained as an EMT at Meeks Bay Fire Department in Lake Tahoe and later also served as a member of the VFD in Southwest Harbor, Maine, helping to create an independent fire “station” on tiny Greenings Island. Wherever he went, in all these capacities and many more, Alex made deep and lasting connections.


He listened to the people others talk over—awkward children, old people, skittish animals. He learned a lot this way and it also made him an exceptional teacher. Generous, patient and encouraging, he was known for sharing the wealth of his knowledge, experience and humor in deep or passing conversations on the dock, in his shop, or as “Pitsligo” on the message boards for various esoteric interests and arcane crafts. Alex hardly ever accepted an invitation, but if you asked for a favor or information, he always responded at the very least with a well-researched referral. We all have stories of the irreplaceable part Alex played in our lives and we’ll all be a bit adrift without him.


It is notable that Alex didn’t draft his own obituary. He took care of just about every other detail and everyone knows he was a great writer. Maybe it was because he couldn’t bring himself to tout his own accomplishments; though objectively the list is too long and varied to do it justice here, Alex was allergic to hyperbole and could poke a hole in any compliment. Maybe he valued ability more than accomplishment. He was most able. Until he was not. Then he left this world.


Alex is survived by his parents Peter Forbes, Patricia Nelson and Eric Nelson, his sisters Anne de Marcken and Allegra Forbes, Anne’s spouse Marilyn Freeman, his aunt Pamela Forbes and uncles Michael Forbes and John Marsh, cousins Sophia McLane and Charles Marsh, by a few essential others including Erica Forbes and Mary Elizabeth Forbes, by a small handful of very close friends, and by a vast network of cherished acquaintances. 


You are invited to share stories ("tributes") and pictures of Alex here and, if you like, to make a donation to the Natural Resources Defense Council using the link below.

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Nombre Alexander John Forbes
Fecha de nacimiento 5 octubre, 1969
Fecha de defunción 16 abril, 2021
Donación en memoria del difunto Natural Resources Defense Council

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Catherine Truman published a tribute .

My brother, cousin, and I spent a week or two every summer at Greenings, starting in about 1979 or 80, through about 1989 or thereabouts. Alex, Annie, James (my brother) Melissa (my cousin) got up to all sorts of adventures…. We sailed — one year, his father had rented an absolutely gorgeous antique (1922) big old wooden sailboat, I don’t remember the name, and we sailed that thing all the time — we were a little bit stupid sometimes — we tried to heel the boat as far over as we could for as long as possible — kind of dumb to come as close to capsizing as possible in the cold waters of Maine. We would have contests to see who could walk out to the end of the bowsprit and stand there the longest while he heeled the boat and bounced over waves. I also remember us deciding to take the boat into southwest harbor to get pizza, and him sailing it straight in and docking it (there was no engine); his dad was furious when we finally got back to Greenings. I remember when he got Bucephalus, too, though don’t recall quite as many crazy adventures — maybe he took better care of it because it was actually his. I remember one summer we arrived to find him having learned to rock climb, so he taught us how to rappel off the chimney at the Big House (for those who don’t know, the Big House was a giant shingle style classic summer home built in the late 19th century, with a big boulder chimney). Anyways, lots and lots of memories of wonderful summers with him — walking around the island, concocting stories of the islands past, swimming in the salt tidal pool, endless games of “strip poker”, where the point was to put on as many layers of clothes as possible, to the point where we could barely move our arms or legs (I don’t recall anyone ever baring any skin at all, we had so many clothes on!) sailing out to Bakers island for picnics… we lost touch once we all got out of college, and I don’t think he was even at Greenings the last year I was up there. I would hear brief updates occasionally, as my father kept in touch with Peter, but updates were brief and far between. I still remember those summers with great affection, and Alex will always be a big part of them.

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Adriana Sexton publicó un comentario .

He sounds like a wonderful man!

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Drew Morby published a tribute .

Well... Fuck. This is one of those lessons in life. Alex was everything written about so beautifully an eloquently above. He was also my best friend through some difficult High School years, and at least in my mind even after. He promised to disappear off the map, and I promised to track him down if he did. But, as the years passed, I let him have his privacy. Checking in occasionally on social media (Mostly through his family, his own imprint being about as minimal as mine). Every couple of years I thought... I'll drive up to Bar Harbor... sit at the parking lot over looking the dock and see if he brings the Annie T in. Then last year, I saw an Alex Forbes had an address listed in Olympia, so I thought... I'll drive across the county, sit outside the address see it it's him. A normal person would have just called, but I wanted to be able to say... "See, I found you." Then of course, I didn't. I always thought there would be time, but sometimes there just isn't. I missed being a part of his life, but he was, and always will be a part of mine.

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Deb publicó un comentario .

Drew, your first sentence captures how I'm feeling. I spent time with Alex in college. I remember hearing your name. He cared about you. I always thought there would be time, too. I figured I would join him backpacking in DV again when we were both older. He will always be a part of my life, too.

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Drew M publicó un comentario .

Thank you for that little bit of comfort at least, Deb. I wish I had any to give back.

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Deb published a tribute .

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Deb published a tribute .

Alex was one of the most influential people in my life, whether he wanted to be or not. Without him I would not have travelled the path I have in my life.

I met Alex my first year of college during which time he entertained me with tales of Athenian and NOLS courses. We attended a small alternative college which involved independent study. Alex and another friend had decided they were going backpacking and climbing. I begged to come, but they only brought me when they realized they could get credit for teaching me. So I found myself really experiencing the west for the first time. One of many firsts in my life that Alex introduced me to.

First time getting paged by the white paging phone, sleeping under the stars, rock climbing, cooking on camp stoves, backpacking, chopping vegetables, cutting wood, watching The Princess Bride....

Alex was at home in the desert and I grew to love it too. Tooling around in Lucky Lady while blasting the Muppet Movie soundtrack will always be a cherished memory. Joshua Tree was amazing, but Death Valley was where his heart was. He loved nothing more than hiking through the desert identifying not the birds or plants, but the military aircrafts as they flew over and cracking up laughing when they were low and scared the beejezus out of me. I heard about Athenian and his time on AWE. He had stories about The Pit Crew. (I vaguely remember a story about a VW bug getting put into the theater or lighting booth.) I know where he planned to become a hermit and live out his older years. You get to know someone pretty well when there are just two of you together in the desert for a couple of months.

I went to Africa the following year. While I was working at the Outward Bound base in Zimbabwe, Tony, the gentleman who had been doing logistics for AWE while we were in DV, stopped by. When I told Alex about this later his response was typical, “yeah, I didn’t think I needed to tell you he was there. I knew you would run into each other.”

A few years later I got to join Alex in Maine where I spent a summer with the eastern side of his family learning to sail. The story of his jail stint in Morocco was a frequent dinner table topic. We spent days on Bucephalus sailing. I learned how thick fog could get as we navigated our way from BoothBay back to Greenings, nearly getting taken out by a trawler at one point. It was an amazing experience and, having Alex as a teacher, I learned so much about all sorts of things. About how to do things right. The day Alex died I told a friend about the Scream doll and living on the island with no electricity.

More firsts...living in a house with no electricity, working on a boat before sailing, visiting northern Maine, experiencing squall lines, and many others.

We saw each other more over the years. First time I flew in a small plane was with him as a pilot. Beautiful flight over Lake Tahoe. 30 years is a long friendship. Over the years we talked about anything and everything. I trusted him completely...well, at least as far as I could throw him.

“Why jump out of a perfectly good boat?” - Alex Forbes
Alex, I’m sorry your boat got holes and I couldn’t help you patch them.

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Jason Ham published a tribute .

Found another one from Death Valley in 2006. Working to secure the water jugs that sustained the course for Athenian. He was amazingly adept at avoiding the camera.

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Roberta Ross published a tribute .

I think about all the things we did as kids at the corral. Great memories, my his soul rest in peace. He was loved and will always hold a spot dear to my heart❤

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Anne De Marcken publicó un comentario .

We were wild together.

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Jason Ham published a tribute .

Circa 2007 in Death Valley serving as logistical coordinator.

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Anne De Marcken publicó un comentario .

Can barely recognize him. Kind of amazing to glimpse Alex in this role. I only ever knew this part of his life through the stories...and of course the accumulated wisdom of all that field experience, which I relied on in so many ways.

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Thomas Raymond Szabo Imrey published a tribute .

I did not know Alex well. When I was 11, Alex told me of a place he loved out west called Lake Tahoe. I had never heard of it and it seemed far away and distant. I now am familiar with the beauty that wonderful place offers and have many great memories of my own. I am grateful that he passed his wisdom to me.

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Elinor Williams published a tribute .

Have a safe journey, Alex. I love you. You will be greatly missed. I cherish our brief meeting on Greening Island, Summer, 1980. You were a few months shy of turning 11 years old. I wish we stayed in touch. But at leased we shared a beautiful moment together.

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Ruth Crawford published a tribute .

He will always be five years old in my mind, such a delightful child.

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Elinor Williams publicó un comentario .

I remember Alex Forbes on Greenings Island. I have many fond memories of having intelligent conversations with him when he was 11.He was always eager to widen his mental horizons. I can still visualize his intelligent face and owl rimmed glasses and his laughter. My heart goes out to the Forbes family.

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Brent Burzycki published a tribute .

One of the most dedicated and humble friends I had. Off to re-read the books you wrote and remember all the times sitting around and arguing about why the world is so broken. I will miss those conversations and terse emails. Long live the Athenian Light Crew!

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Helen Robbins publicó un comentario .

My first and most enduring memory of Alec was him hurtling, ass over tea kettle, down the stairs on Myrtle Street. I remember him as a precocious, funny, and sensitive boy. I would have liked to have met and talked with Alex, the man.

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Tish Mcilwraith publicó un comentario .

I think he was my first babysitting job. I just remember a tow headed, rollypolly, ready for anything munchkin. He, Puckie (Annie) and his parents were wonderful friends to the 2 girls next door. Reading his obituary makes me sad that I didn’t know him as an adult. He did more and learned more in his life than most people. Sending huge hugs to all....

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Jason Ham published a tribute .

Alex was an amazing friend and mentor. I first met Alex when I worked an Athenian Wilderness Experience course in 1996 in Death Valley. He was clearly in his element. Shuttling water and supplies around the desert for all the Athenians out there wandering around for the better part of a month. He reveled in the extremes of Saline Valley. He loved sitting in the thin shade of a well pitched tarp in the 100+ degree heat, calling out the aircraft types of the various military jets that used the lonely white school van as some kind of target practice. He would sometimes retreat under the vehicle during the middle of the day to get a little more relief from the sun. That was where you would find him if your group arrived late for a resupply. He would pop up and set out your banana boxes of food and smurfs of water like a desert gnome emerging from the earth.

I loved how precise he was in everything he did. It was that attitude that I aspire to constantly in my personal and professional life. I owe him a debt of gratitude for how he guided me to excellence in the running of the complicated logistics of those desert courses. Calculating water loads for vehicles, determining safe driving speeds for various vehicles under extreme conditions (slower!), resting whenever possible because you never know when the next emergency will pop up, fixing stoves with style and perfection because they will always be in demand (and a perfectly running stove is a thing of beauty.) His absolute gift to the Death Valley AWE was his "daily plan" that he wrote out. More than a set of notes, it was a comprehensive analysis of what each vehicle, driver and student volunteers needed to do at any moment of each of the 26 days of the course. When my wife and I started directing the Athenian Wilderness Experience, we were lucky to inherit that living document and have Alex come work with us to show us exactly how to do it.

In his words, "If you're going to do something, do it right."

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Steve Davenport published a tribute .

Alex was a beloved member of the Athenian community. We knew he was destined to find his own way of living his life. In that way, he seemed a typical Athenian student. My condolences to his family and his legion of friends.

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Mrspuff publicó un comentario .

He was the one who taught me the phrase "to a hammer, everything looks like a nail". When he said it, he was able to convey something profound in that small sentence. It always stuck with me.

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Wesley Morgan published a tribute .

Remembering Alex Forbes - Alex was one of, if not the leader of a beloved group of Athenian students that supported, entertained, and educated what was then known as the Athenian Repertory Theater. Publicly, they were the Drama Department’s Stage Crew, but privately, and to their dearest friends, they were “The Pit Crew,”

Alex, and his fellow “rude mechanicals” were the mainstay of every theatrical production throughout the late 80s. With his tenacious search for practical solutions to problems of rigging, to challenges with lighting deficiencies, Alex led the Crew to purposeful and aesthetically satisfying resolutions, even if they were found in the most unorthodox times of day, (or night).

Alex introduced and mentored dozens of his fellow Athenians into the collaboratively world of technical theater. He taught his friends how to translate their interests in technology, math, science, and gaming into the processes of theatrical storytelling. Whether it was in lighting, sound, or scenery, (and yes, costuming), it was Alex and The Pit Crew that got it done. They were relentless in searching out lighting effects, fog machines, and in finding fun uses for the mechanical lift.

When ever he’d return to Athenian for his various AWE responsibilities, Alex would check in with the current crews to see what problems and challenges the director had given them in the current production, and if they had found satisfactory answers. Alex remained a dedicated Athenian even in his absence.

Alex was quick, confident, compassionate, dedicated, intelligent, industrious, observant, sensitive, and loyal. The essence of Alex’ legacy is his friendship, intelligence, ingenuity and loyalty. He found his Tribe at Athenian. We hoped that he knew how much he was loved.

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Jeff Mckillip published a tribute .

I wish I had pictures of the summer I spent learning to sail on Lake Tahoe under his tutelage. He was an incredible teacher and it is, to this day, one of the best summers of my life. His patience and fastidiousness had a profound impact on how I teach today.

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