In Memoriam: National Heritage Fellow Bob McQuillen ’59

BobMcQuillenThe Keene State community, New England, and the contra dance world is saddened by the passing of NEA National Heritage Fellow Bob McQuillen ’59 on February 4. McQuillen, or “Mac” as he was affectionately known, was one of those larger-than-life characters who amassed a wealth of friends and delightful stories that stretch around the world. He served two tours of duty with the US Marines, first in the South Pacific during World War II and then in Korea, got a degree in industrial arts education from Keene, became a centerpiece in the contradance and folk music communities, had a profound influence on the students he taught at ConVal High School (Peterborough, NH) for 34 years, and composed an estimated 1,500 dance tunes.

Mac, 90 years old and hale and hearty till the very end, drove himself to a local restaurant on Feb. 2 and suffered a major stroke while he was there. He was rushed to the hospital and died two days later, 29 years to the day that his former wife, Priscilla Jean McQuillen, passed. According to those close to him, Mac was ready to go and had been putting his affairs in order for the past few months. His friends and admirers immediately launched a Facebook page, “Remembering Mac,” that quickly filled with wonderful anecdotes and testimonies to his life and influence.

They say you can tell a person’s character by the adjectives he or she uses. Watch this dialogue between Associate Professor of Architecture Peter Temple and Mac, where Mac discusses his time at what was then Keene Teachers College, and pay attention to the adjectives he uses:

In 2012, Mac joined a panel of luminaries in the contradance community at the 2012 Flurry Festival of traditional dance and music in Saratoga Springs, NY. If you’d like to know how Mac got into the world of contradancing, here’s his story:

And the Peterborough Ledger/Transcript did a great piece about him.

3 thoughts on “In Memoriam: National Heritage Fellow Bob McQuillen ’59

  1. I first met “Mac” in a class that I taught in a Summer Session at KSC in the 70’s – MUSIC IN AMERICA. I must honestly say the I probably learned more from Bob – about American folk/contra dancing music than I taught him. We found that we had a number of common background experiences – Both had started our “musical careers” playing in “square dance” bands – as teenagers, both later became high school teachers and we were both veterans of the Korean War – he in the Marines and myself in the U.S. Army.
    Unfortunately, After that particular summer session, we lost touch but I have always kept in touch with his various musical activities and honors awarded to him.

  2. Worked with Bob picking potatoes for Richardson, a player with Ralph Page. in late 40’s.
    Bob was one or two years behind ,me at KTC.
    Sorry to hear of his death but happy that he made such an impression on those he came in contact with.
    We are all to be remembered by our deeds and surely Bob will be remembered for his.
    Minot Parker KTC ’56

  3. I had the joy and privilege to serve with Mac at Conval, where, in spite of the short time I was there, he became one of the strongest influences in my life and to this very day – many, many years later. He will always influence my choices in life, just as he has for the last 39 years. His incredible spirit, common sense and celebration of all that is good in this life guides me continuously. Although he will always be with me, I am so very sad that he is not here with us anymore.

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