Robert W. Pierce, 76, of Newport passed away peacefully on Wednesday, July 12, 2017 with his family at his side. Although Robie, to all who knew him, valiantly battled Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for nearly 30 years, his family was always his first priority. But, he loved interacting and exchanging ideas with everyone, especially his many close friends and the new ones he made wherever he went. Always looking for new challenges, Robie tackled every project he undertook eagerly with passion and an indomitable spirit that marked his entire life.
Robie was born January 3, 1941 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He attended Tabor Academy and studied at the University of Vermont. In 1965, Robie married Cornelia “Nina” Read, and together they had three children, Ellie, Robert Jr. and Benjamin. Robie married Barbara Bennett Nostrand, his loving wife of nearly 40 years in 1977, and she and her son Dudley joined the family. Robie was never happier than when he was with his children and grandchildren, or just catching up on the phone.
Robie’s entire business career was devoted to the marine industry and he was an avid competitive sailor and sportsman. His first experience was at The Beverly Yacht Club in Marion, Massachusetts where he mastered sailing 110s, winning a number of regattas. He raced competitively in the Marion to Bermuda Race, Buzzards Bay Regatta and Block Island Race week, where he was also a multiple trophy winner.
Robie was a proud member of the Ida Lewis Yacht Club in Newport, Rhode Island since 1987. He was also a former board member of the New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and chaired the Newport Accessibility Advisory Committee. He wrote the Accessibility Guidelines for Rhode Island’s Tall Ship, Oliver Perry, which was rebuilt and dedicated in 2014.
Recognizing a void in advanced training opportunities for sailors with disabilities, shortly after being diagnosed with MS, Robie became involved with Shake-A-Leg, a non-profit organization formed to help people with disabilities be more independent. Robie was instrumental in the development of Shake-A-Leg’s Adaptive Sailing Program in the 1990’s, ultimately becoming a leader in the adaptive sailing community.
Over the years Robie won U.S. disabled sailing championships many times, but he was most proud of winning the World Disabled Sailing Championship in 1993. Through Robie’s passion for the sport, the U.S hosted the Disabled World Championship in Newport for the first time in 1998.
Later, Robie was instrumental in starting the C. Thomas Clagett Jr. Memorial Clinic and Regatta to assist sailors with adaptive needs achieve their individual goals of competing in sailing at national and international levels. Over 15 years, Robie’s vision and drive to make these skills available to sailors with disabilities resulted in 19 Paralympic Medals for Clagett sailors. The Pierce/Seamanship trophy is awarded annually at The Clagett in Newport, RI.
In 2009, a group of Robie’s friends started a new regatta for disabled sailors called the Robie Pierce One-Design Regatta. Now in its ninth year hosted by the Larchmont and American Yacht Clubs, the “Robie,” which includes a women’s invitational, is one of North America’s largest adaptive regattas.
Robie is survived by his wife Barbara, his constant support through good and difficult times, his three children and a grandson Elliott; Barbara’s son Dudley, his wife Sasha, and their two children Bennett and Xander; his twin brother Richard, Albert and Edward. He will be missed for his quick wit, his entrepreneurial zeal, his curiosity and his warmth by all who knew him.
A memorial service at St. Columba’s Chapel in Middletown will be held on September 26, 2017 at 2 pm. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you please consider a donation to the following: National Multiple Sclerosis Society, C. Thomas Clagett Jr. Memorial Clinic and Regatta or the Robie Pierce One-Design Regatta.