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Robert Frost According to Joe Frost


Says Cousin Joe  

Joe_Frost_Courtesy_photoJoseph William Pepperrell Frost (1923 -2008) served as sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II. He was a businessman by trade, working in the textile and construction industries, at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and in the York public school system. But he is best known locally as an avid, even fanatical collector of historic books and artifacts, many of which found a home at the Portsmouth Athenaeum, an organization he helped revive. A descendent of Sir William Pepperrell, hero of the siege at Louisbourg in 1745, Joe raised his family in the famous Pepperrell Mansion at Kittery Point. Days before he died following a tractor accident at age 85, one friend recalls, Joe was reciting lengthy passages from Longfellow’s poetry to young nurses gathered around his hospital bed.   

In 1961, at age 86, Robert Frost was the first poet invited to read at a presidential inauguration. He composed a special poem for John F. Kennedy, but in the glaring sun and subzero temperatures, he was unable to read the print typed on the page. So instead he read a poem he knew by heart. First Lady Jackie Kennedy framed the original Frost poem entitled “Dedication” and it was the first item hung on the White House office walls of the new president. It disappeared for decades into the hands of a private collector and didn’t turn up at the Kennedy Library until 2006.  

Those who heard Joe Frost speak might agree that he read his cousin’s poetry better than the poet himself. At the Atheaneum in 1997 he recited a number of poems including the classic lines from “Stopping by Woods on as Snowy Evening.”  That reading jogged his memory of Frost’s final days.  

“The last time I saw Robert,” Joe said, “was the day before he died. He asked his secretary to give me a call to come down there to the hospital in Boston to see him…He looked pretty healthy to me sitting up there in bed and we talked for an hour or so. That night they called me to say he died, so we never know how close we are.”

Joe attended Robert Frost’s funeral at Harvard, a private ceremony. President Kennedy was among those who sent moving tributes. The Associated Press said that Frost symbolized “the rough-hewn individuality of the American creative spirit more than any other man.” During their time together, Joe said, he met just about every famous poet of the era. During the memorial ceremony at Amherst that followed, Joe sat next to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India. When Nehru died the following year, Joe told his audience at the Athenaeum, there was a handwritten message from Robert Frost under the glass on the prime minister’s desk that read “I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep” – a line from his best known poem.  


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Monday, February 19, 2018 
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