Born in 1934 in Fall River, MA, Robert was the first child of George and Margery Wheeler. He and his sister Joan grew up at St. George’s School in Newport, RI, where his grandfather and father taught for a cumulative 99 years. Bob put education, principles, loyalty and friendship above all else. He was firmly rooted in tradition, and lived by the old school motto: “If you are going to do something, do it RIGHT.” And no lollygagging. He did right by the motto, and made the world a better place through conscientious, consistent activism.
Wheel was a natural and graceful athlete; in his youth he lettered in soccer, football, hockey and baseball. With his innate ability and competitive fire, combined with his dogged discipline, he was an infuriating, yet engaging opponent. It was baseball that gave him lifelong joy. Combining the beauty and elegance of athletic endeavor with the cerebral tactics of chess, he paid attention to the game, in every sense.
He attended Yale University, where he pursued his love of baseball and found his calling writing for the Yale Daily News. Majoring in History, Bob toyed with the idea of being a newspaperman, intrigued with the action and pace, along with consistent dialogue around current events, politics and sports, topics which simultaneously inspired and agitated him throughout his life.
Graduating from Yale in 1956, Wheel went into the Navy. During four years of being stationed on destroyers, he reached the rank of Lieutenant (junior grade). More importantly in this time frame, he courted his lovely and gregarious wife-to-be, Wendy Allen, marrying in 1959.
Bob returned to Yale for his Masters in Teaching, focusing on co-education in secondary schools. It was then that Bob and Wendy (freshly married) intentionally and fortuitously veered from their New England roots, moving to Shaker Heights, OH, to be part of the Kennedy Era social experiment in diverse, integrated school systems and communities. Bob and Wendy raised their four children in Ohio, giving them the gift of a midwestern sensibility, for which they will be forever grateful. After 16 years at Shaker Heights High School and Hawken School, they decided to return home to New England. Wheel took a job as Upper School Head at The Park School in Brookline. Working with younger kids for the first time, Bob sought to cultivate discussion, argument and debate between teachers and young minds. This was an endearing trait that continues to impact sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, students and friends.
In 1985, as empty-nesters, Wheel and Wendy moved to Northford, CT. Bob worked as an Admissions Officer at Yale for the next 20 years, where his eye for human excellence and long history with the University coalesced. Relationships with Yalies from his days as a student through his time in Admissions were of central importance to him; he maintained correspondence with his preferred method: pen and paper.
Wheel was a quiet man, with a profound connection to the landscape. For decades he tended a large vegetable garden in his yard, with Wendy tirelessly canning the spoils at harvest time. Upon retirement, they traveled extensively around the world soaking in the wonders of human existence and visiting friends and relatives. Curious and joyously studious, Bob read history and revelled in the acquisition of knowledge throughout his life.
In 2011, Bob and Wendy moved to Linden Ponds in Hingham, MA, to be closer to family. In 2013, after a loving and dynamic 54 year marriage, Wendy passed away. After her death, Wheel lived independently and developed many new, fulfilling relationships. Wheel was an active and thoughtful listener, less interested in parsing advice than he was in getting to the heart of someone’s issue, struggle or concern. He will be sorely missed.
Wheel is survived by his sister Joan Kaufman and his four children and their families; Daniel and Maggie Wheeler (Los Angeles, CA), Andrew and Deb Todd Wheeler (Newton, MA), Beth Wheeler and Emmy Shacter (Takoma Park, MD) and Amy Wheeler and partner Tim Reny (Simsbury, CT), beautiful grandchildren and one great-grandchild, all of whom he delighted in spending time with in his beloved Westport Harbor MA.
A memorial service for Bob will be held at Saint Columba’s Chapel in Middletown, RI, on Saturday, November 25 at 1:30 PM. Following the service there will be a brief interment and reception. All are welcome.