Edmund S. Bemis, Jr., Nov. 28, 1922 – March 29, 2011

Ed Bemis, left, with fellow Pemi driver Butch Pease.

We recently received word of the death at age 88 of long-time Pemi employee, Ed Bemis. Given Ed’s many years of service – and well over a half century of neighborly friendship with us in the Town of Wentworth – it seems only fitting to say a few appreciative words about him here.

Ed first came to work as a driver when we were still transporting boys in the back of open trucks. For close to two decades, well after we relegated the big stake-body to moving laundry and switched over to van and bus transport, Ed was as safe and responsible in that position as anyone we have ever had. Far more than that, however, Ed was unfailingly cheerful and friendly with anyone from the youngest Junior camper to the oldest ex-director or alumnus. His sunny and out-going disposition in turn brought the warmth and good cheer out of others, who could never see him drive by without yelling “Bemis!” and giving their own version of his sanitized but plucky raised-arm “salute.”

I supervised Ed’s driving for most of the years he was with us. Ed was absolutely dependable. If you asked him to have a bus in the Junior Camp at 10:30 to take two cabins to Mt. Cube, Ed would be there with two packs filled with lunches.  If you told him to pick up a 2-day at Mt. Cardigan at 3 PM, he would be there. If, however, he knew he didn’t have any other responsibilities that afternoon other than getting the troops back for supper, the van wouldn’t roll in until 5:55 and then disgorge a crowd of happy boys right in front of the mess hall. “Where were you Ed?” “Well, you didn’t say what time to get them back, so I took them for a tour of the dowel factory in Plymouth.” What could you say?

Ed was a tireless but enthralling conversationalist, the Ancient Mariner of New Hampshire roads. He was, in fact, a Navy vet – a Seabee in the South Pacific – and he’d sometimes share his rich and often hilarious tales of service during WW II. More frequently though, as you’d ride with him, say, over the shoulder of Moosilauke to North Woodstock, he’d fill you in on every person in every house along the whole route – what they did, who they’d married, what kind of car they used to own, something funny that had once happened to them or to their kids. Ed knew everyone in the area – as everyone knew him – and he had an inimitable talent for talking about them in a way that might have brought a hint of a blush if they’d been listening but that was always filled with underlying affection and charity. If we’ve ever been “all in it together” with anyone, it was with Ed. To know him was to like him. For him to know you was to be liked by everyone with whom he spoke.

Part of Ed’s voluminous local knowledge came from his role in the off-season as the guy who hauled the mail from Warren and Wentworth to Plymouth. Part of it came from his running, for decades, the Texaco station at the junction of 25 and 25-A: everyone got their gas there, and kids flocked to the cooler for the chilly bottles of birch beer that you couldn’t find anywhere else. Part of it came from the fact that “Bemis Septic Service” pumped the tanks and cess-pools of virtually everyone in the area, and Ed clearly saw and learned a whole lot as he’d chat with clients while the infamous Poopa-Scoopa (aka “The Honey Wagon”) chugged away. Ed later turned this colorful business to minor additional profits when he came out with his famed “Bemis Septic Service” tee-shirt, with its storied motto blazoned beneath the image of a winning poker hand: “A Royal Flush Beats a Full House.” These are now treasured collectors’ items. Look for them soon on Antiques Road Show.

Extolling Ed’s virtues would not be complete without mentioning what Ed did at camp between driving assignments. If he wasn’t pulling the gang-mower around camp on the old Ford tractor or spreading gravel in pot-holes on the road to the Junior Camp, Ed was always to be found on the porch of the Lodge, playing ping pong with anyone who cared to pick up a paddle. It was always “I play the winner” for Bemis wannabes, and as enthusiasts from the youngest denizen of Junior One to Tom Reed Sr. lined up to slap a ball around, Ed was only rarely knocked out of the competition and away from the table. That was fine by everyone, though, because the person they all really wanted to play with was Bemis. He was as steady as a brick wall and as cheerful and supportive as a Cub Scout den mother. He played just hard enough to beat whomever he was up against, and he was always – here and everywhere else – the vivid, knowledgeable, and hilarious color commentator on his own athletic performance.

Ed was an original. Anyone who ever knew him could tell you that as well as I. It was our distinct honor and privilege to have him as a friend and colleague for as long as we did. So here’s to Ed, and to everything he was and did for us.  Somewhere in another Valley, higher up in the Whites, he’s ready with a story and a grin. He’s freeing his arm for that sanitized salute.

“Hey! Bemis!”

— Tom Reed, Jr.

NOTE:

A memorial service for Ed will be held at 1 pm on May 15 beginning at the cemetery opposite his old garage station in Wentworth and followed by a reception at his daughter’s home at 650 Atwell Hill. All are welcome.

Ed’s children have established a scholarship fund in Ed Bemis’s name for a Wentworth high school graduate who hopes to continue on to higher education. Donations can be mailed to:

Meredith Village Savings Bank
131 Main Street
Plymouth, NH 03264

Please write “Ed Bemis Scholarship Fund” on the check.

9 thoughts on “Edmund S. Bemis, Jr., Nov. 28, 1922 – March 29, 2011

  1. Tom,

    Thank you so much for capturing the essence of my Grandfather so perfectly. I consider myself lucky to have had so many years with him in which countless memories were made. Pemi was a huge part of his life; I actually wore one of his t-shirts to a BC Football game a couple years ago and someone in the stands stopped me. He was a camper from Pemi and remembered Ed well. He is famous (or infamous) for sure. Thanks again!
    ~Nici

  2. Being the oldest of Bemis’ four children, I well remember the days of the Pemi boys going by our house in Warren in the Pemi open pickup and Bemis whistling to us and giving a big wave. No way would he stop so his three girls could oogle over those Pemi Boys!! I will miss him forever.
    Cindy Bemis

  3. Thank you Tom, for obviously seeing in my father what I saw, and loved him dearly for. Your humorous yet passionate description of him so accurately portrays his reputation of being characteristically a character! There is one sure thing I know, and that is that he is delightfully surprised by the attention you have given him here. He never could quite figure out what is was that people saw in him that had them wanting more. He will be missed; and, if he had not been my father, I would still have loved him just as much. Thank you for loving him too.
    Shirley Bemis (2nd daughter of Edmund Bemis)

  4. Well this is a great write-up on an amazing person! I’m one of the five Philbrick kids that Bemis carted around for the 8 years we each attended WES. The beginning of a long bus route. While I spent a lot of time reading or staring out the window, I have plenty of memories of shooting the proverbial ‘honey’ with Bemis. He was very funny and probably was the one who taught me to laugh at myself (or my own jokes… out loud). He was also very capable of being serious and would let you know when you were out of line. Or standing on the bus 🙂 When you spend 45 minutes to an hour (all I know is it was a LONG bus ride) one way, twice a day, 5 days a week, for 8 school years, with the same guy, you’re going to have some attachments. It’s akin to having a second dad for those times spent together. And I honestly am now so thankful that I did have such a long bus ride. For those who spent a few minutes with him each day, living close to the school, well, they missed out is all. You know it was awful and hilarious, the one day I got on the bus and was hit by this awful smell. “PEEE-UUU!!! What’s that smell???” He has this huge grin and says, “The bus was parked next to the Honey Wagon last night.” Hahahaha! The joke was on us. And it WAS funny. It was just another part of his life we got to share with him. Really, who’s “stuff” doesn’t stink? As far as I can tell, Bemis spent his life enjoying his company. And I’m referring to the folks around him. He sure seemed to understood time very well. Certainly from a punctual stand point, but more so in how time should be spent. Laughing. Smiling. Being human. Sharing all that good nature with those around him. I can’t recall him EVER complaining. And I’ve already missed my ‘old bus driver’. It’s sad I lost the chance to catch up with him, now many years later since I was that little boy getting jostled around the large yellow bus that’s hitting all the pot holes on Rowentown Cross Road.

    I’m not a religious person, but I still wonder what vehicle he’d be taking up into the great beyond. Maybe none. Maybe he’s content to shed those and try on his new set of wings.

    It’s been an honor to have known you Bemis. Thanks for being a positive presence in my childhood. I’m one of the fortunate ones.

  5. A Royal Flush always beats a full house!
    If I remember that correctly from almost 30 years ago. Still true today.
    Thanks Ed.

  6. I spent four summers working in the cookhouse and thought Ed had a wonderful sense of humor. @James: You indeed remember it correctly. That was the quote Ed had on his septic service business cards!

  7. Tom,
    Well done capturing Bemis’ character to a ‘t’. He was a great man, so proud of Pemi, Wentworth, his children and grandchildren, and was very modest when it came to his time in the service. I bought a lot of his ‘fine antiques’ (his description of everything he had!), and was glad to get so much more than the just the items. The stories that accompanied each item are what I still cherish today.
    He was quite the character. I remember when he stopped by Merriwood in his newly acquired 70’s VW Bus after camp had ended to say hello, and drove right by. When I caught up to him at the bottom of the hill, he explained his brakes were ‘a little soft’, but he was making great time!

    Again, well done, and I’m confident we will see his ‘salute’ in another place at another time.

  8. Ed Bemis came to Pemi my last two years as a camper. (1977-78) He was a very nice man. I never heard anything negative about him. I remember him driving the trucks and the vans. He was a fan of country western music, but campers and counslers would overrule him.

  9. I regret hearing of Ed’s passing, of course, but I can’t help but smile thinking of him. I was a bit bemused by him his first year or two (I believe Derrick has the years of Ed’s first year at Pemi correct, as usual), given my nature as a high-strung, hypersincere camper, but that changed on a rainy ride back “home” in the aforementioned Big Truck at the end of the Lakes of the Clouds trip my senior year in 1979. The group was cold, tired and a bit cranky and punchy riding in the back of that creaky ol’ machine that we loved. One lucky camper was invited to sit up in the cab with Ed and Roger McEniry, and it was I. It was an unforgettable experience, sitting sandwiched between this fascinating character whose personality was so different from mine, and a counselor who inspired boundless admiration from me. Predictably, given Ed’s makeup, we discussed any and every topic under the sun, and it dawned on me that I was being treated as an adult for the first time in my life. It feels good to remember that moment.

    Perhaps that simple reflection captures Ed’s greatest attribute: he made others feel good. We are all deeply grateful, Ed, and we are happier and better for having known you. Thank you.

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