Middle school teacher dies

Thursday, September 27, 2012


Staff Writer

MILFORD – Milford Middle School was a sad place on Monday, the day after Robert Foster died.

Mr. Foster, as the students called him, was probably the school’s most popular teacher, and the four other teachers in his 7th grade team, called The Navigators, were still trying to process the bad news as they gathered after school on Tuesday with Foster’s son John.

An avid hiker and mountain climber who in recent years climbed Mount Washington and Maine’s Mount Katahdin, Foster, 70, died on the trail leading to Pack Monadnock in Peterborough.

His son said the cause was a massive heart attack.

A decorated Army helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, Foster was a pilot for Eastern Airlines until the company dissolved in 1991. After that Foster became a middle school social studies teacher, a job he embraced.

The teachers call him The Navigators’ “patron saint,” because of the laughter, love and wisdom he brought to the school every day.

“He had a lot of standing jokes. He showed the kids that we are not perfect and we are always trying to be better,” said Chris Erdody, the English teacher on the team.

Reading teacher Jo-Ann Wisniewski tried not to cry as she remembered that on Friday,
Foster had talked to the 7th graders about the importance of finding a job they loved and making good decision, “about how making poor decisions when you’re young means fewer choices later.”

And John said his father was a natural born teacher.

“I learned about aerodynamics when I was in the first and second grade,” he said.

“He could have taught anything,” said Kevin Ingram, the team’s math teacher.

One of Foster’s most remarkable qualities was that he never complained, said Erdody, though his life must have often been hard. Twenty years ago Foster’s wife, Elizabeth, had a stroke and has been wheelchair-bound ever since.

“It was not in his nature to complain. At the same time he wasn’t a dour workhorse,” said John Foster, who said he would probably start off his eulogy at the funeral service on Friday with something funny.

Foster said he was amazed five years ago to find his father’s service medals, including a Purple Heart, because his father had never mentioned them.

The teachers, said Erdody, learned about the medals from the obituary.

Mostly, though, the teachers laughed and smiled a lot, relating “Bobisms,” Foster’s funny little stories and sayings, like, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” and “Your ‘I will’ is more important than your IQ.”

Before a weekend, said science teacher Mark Evans, Foster would tell the kids ‘Stay out of jail’.”

“The kids knew he loved being here every day,” said Ingram

Every Friday, Foster would bring doughnuts to his homeroom, and his great generosity of spirit spread to everyone he knew, said the teachers.

“If you needed anything,” he would get it for you, said Ingram. One time a colleague was in the hospital and “he went out of his way to get him a New York newspaper.

“Every now and then he would talk about retiring,” Ingram said, but the teachers always thought they could talk him into staying another year.

Foster loved being part of the 7th grade team and served as its glue.

“We always got along,” said Ingram. “Not one day it wasn’t a pleasant experience. He knew everyone has a strength and that’s what he tried to bring out.”

He had nicknames for all the students and he would talk to each of them in the hallways.

“He would have these two-second interactions” with them, said Ingram, but those quick interactions would have a profound effect on the kids. “He understood that everything you said will be remembered forever.”

Foster was found about 12:30 p.m. Sunday by a hiker who was descending the Marion Davis Trail, one of two major trails leading from the park headquarters to the crest of Pack Monadnock mountain, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game.

Foster, who was unconscious, was about a quarter-mile from the trail head. Emergency workers reached him at 12:55 p.m. and performed CPR to no avail.

Memorial visiting hours are Thursday, Sept. 27, from 5-8 p.m. in the Smith & Heald Funeral Home, 63 Elm St., Milford.

A memorial service with military honors will be held on Friday at 10 a.m. in the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 20 Elm St., Milford.

In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project at Arrangements are in the care of Smith & Heald Funeral Home, Milford. To leave an online condolence, go to

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland

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