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.
— Tom Reed, Jr.
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.