Tobias We Hardly Knew Ye
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Written by J. Dennis Robinson

Lear

WASHINGTON'S BELEAGUERED SECRETARY

Life was a roller coaster ride for Tobias Lear. Selected as secretary to George Washington, his checkered career zoomed up and crashed down. Portsmouth's native son lived with the nation's #1 family, but finally took his own life.

 

 

It was a Tobias Lear kind of day, full of promise soon to explode. I was nabbing a bagel downtown. The temperature was pushing 70. Only the smallest dirty lumps of the April Fool's Day blizzard remained and the sun was testing its harsh new Daylight Savings Time beam on the giant windows of the bagel shop. Customer's blinked, half blinded by the reflection off their morning papers. There were enough people in sunglasses to re-shoot the alien landing in "Close Encounters," and when the first brave halter top of the season sauntered past the deli window, even the women gazed in awe.

Chaucer was right. When the sweet breath of April arrives, the sap flows -- and I mean big time. The whole bagel shop seemed to ooze liquid life. We were all ready to pop like tulips in a microwave. Good Lord Almighty, it was spring at last.

So it went. On the surface, just a couple dozen people eating circular bread, but inside you could tell they were all rumbling, ready to go Pompeii. Six months of cold New England weather has a way of doing that. Throw in a sharp ocean breeze, the last gasp of Hale-Bopp -- and stand back. It was a good feeling.

Checkered CareerLike any hard-core Yankee, I get nervous when I'm happy. There's something not to be trusted about a smile. It can lead to open grinning, loss of composure, false hope and invite the inevitable crush of returning reality. Life is, after all, a veil of tears, and yet despite myself, I was practically buoyant, just sitting there sipping Earl Gray and passionately smearing my fresh baked bagel with Very Berry cream cheese spread. Dammit, I was happy.

This must be how Tobias Lear felt, I thought, when George Washington appointed him secretary at Mount Vernon. Here was Lear, just a kid from Portsmouth, selected to work at a 10,000 acre farm in Virginia for practically the most famous man in what was practically America. Tobias must have been downright giddy. Poor boy. If only he had known.

Lear is in my thoughts too much lately. His life rattles around in my brain like a bad tune from a musical comedy – The Checkered Career of Tobias Lear. The title comes from local historian Ray Brighton. It is the only book ever written about Lear. Without it, and a few character attacks in a novel by Kenneth Roberts, Lear would have achieved anonymity. Poor guy, all he wanted was fame, and wealth, and happiness. But Lear couldn't win for losing. That's why I like him so much.

Here are a few curves from the roller coaster life of Portsmouth's native son of the Revolution: