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Robert Newton Peck
Obituary and Autobiography

In Loving Memory of Robert Newton Peck
February 17, 1928 - June 23, 2020


Robert Newton Peck, 92, of Longwood, Florida, passed away at his residence on June 23, 2020. He was born in Ticonderoga, New York, to Frank and Lucille Dornburgh Peck. Robert graduated from Rollins College and served in the U.S. Army during WWII. Robert was an author of 65 books, most notably A Day No Pigs Would Die.  He was a true showman and compelling speaker who entertained countless audiences with his jokes, stories, poems, opinions, and his masterful playing of ragtime piano.  He is survived by his wife, Sharon Michael Peck, daughter, Anne Dixon, and grandson, Stephen Darios. The family will be having a graveside service at Florida National Cemetery at a time yet to be determined.

Baldwin Brothers Funeral and Cremation Society

Rob's Autobiography

Weeds in Bloom: Autobiography of an Ordinary Man - Published by Random House, 2005, 224pp., ISBN 037582801X

With over 65 books to his name, including the classic A Day No Pigs Would Die, Robert Newton Peck has enjoyed an illustrious writing career.  Now, in an autobiography as unique as he is, Peck tells his story through the people who've shaped his life: a nameless man who shovels coal for the freight train, a farrier with a penchant for early breakfasts, a homeless boy who learns to play piano by ear, a grizzled backwoodsman, a panther-hunting Seminole, a Jamaican sugar-cane cutter.  Rough-cut and unpolished, they are what Peck would call plain folk, the country's poor and uneducated.

In this extraordinary autobiography of a self-proclaimed ordinary man, Robert Newton Peck gifts us with a treasury of quiet wisdom and humble understanding.  It is a rare glimpse not only into the author's life but also into the lives of those who too often go unseen and unheard.

Weeds in Bloom Book Reviews

"A fine read, Robert Newton Peck's 'Weeds in Bloom' is meant to be savored"

Last spring, Columbus had the great pleasure of hosting Robert Newton Peck, an award winning author of over 50 books for children and young adults.  His visit was sponsored by MUW Graduate Programs in Education and Friends of the Columbus Public Library.  A fun time was had by all.  In preparation for his visit, his publisher sent me an advance galley of his latest book, which was to be released in July.  The book is Weeds in Bloom:  Autobiography of an Ordinary Man (2005, Random House.)  When I got the book, my first impulse was to hop into it and get it read before the Man got here.  Just a few pages into this amazing book soon changed my mind.

This was not a work to be rushed into it could not be guzzled it had to be slowly savored like a fine wine.  Even after reading it at an appropriate pace, I could not bring myself to immediately review it  I just had to read it again.  I have done so, and now it is my delight to share it with you.

First, you have to know that I am a huge fan of this prolific and unique author.  Many years ago I read his classic A Day No Pigs Would Die (1994 Latest paperback edition, Random House) and since then I have watched for his books.  In the past few years, he has given us some truly remarkable stories.  I reviewed Horse Thief (2002, HaperCollins) here on January 23 and Cowboy Ghost (1992, HarperCollins) on April 10.  Last year on October 31 I reviewed my current favorite (but Weeds is certainly pushing that) Bro (2004, HarperCollins).  In that review I stated that reading a Peck novel was like returning to an old friend.  Weeds gives us the background for just why we feel that way.

As you might expect from a strong, creative writer like Rob Peck, you will not find the usual autobiography.  In a truly touching approach, sometimes humorous and sometimes serious, Rob has shared his true identity and soul and he belies the subtitle Autobiography of an Ordinary Man.  In Weeds Rob Peck has shown that he is no ordinary man, and I can hear his protests now.

Peck has chosen to tell his story in a unique way, which should be expected from this skilled craftsman.  He tells us who he is and why he is by telling the stories of those who have shaped him.  From his boyhood, to his youth, to his stint in the Army, to his college days, and to his maturity, he shares the special stories of special people who have helped make and mold him into who he is today.

I was touched and moved; I laughed and even cried as I read the remarkable stories of his makers.  It is impossible to select a favorite story, and to isolate them would go against the purpose and structure of the book. However, (you probably know that this was coming), two of his chapters especially moved me, Aunt Ida and Best Friend.

The first tells of his great-great aunt Ida.  The chapter ends in this way: It's me, I told her. Robert.  My father is Haven Peck.  I paused for a breath, You are my great great aunt.  Slowly her mouth closed, and for one forever-to-be-cherished moment, the flag blue returned to her eyes while she studied me, possibly wondering whether I'd ever measure up to manhood, to being a Peck, and her kin.  I'm now over seventy.  So sixty years later, I'm still asking myself if I am worthy enough to call her my Aunt Ida. (Page 31)

Best Friend tells the story of the last days of his faithful pet and companion, Valor, his dog.  Peck creates a love story that will bring a tear to the eye of even the most jaded reader.  I could go on and on, but I must close.  I choose to do so by quoting the book jacket:  In this extraordinary autobiography of a self-proclaimed ordinary man, Robert Newton Peck gifts us with a treasure of quiet wisdom and humble understanding.  It is a rare glimpse not only into this author's life but also into the lives of those who too often go unseen and unheard.

For a truly remarkable reading experience, I heartily recommend Robert Newton Peck's Weeds in Bloom:  Autobiography of an Ordinary Man. Happy Reading.

Written by Bob Seney, a professor at Mississippi University for Women (MUW) who writes children's reviews. Review by Alexis Burling

5 Star Review - An interesting and personal retrospective of an accomplished author and well-loved cowboy, June 28, 2005

Reviewer: (New York, NY)
"MY BOOK IS YOUR AMERICA. An album of my old friends and your new ones. Real citizens you deserve to greet, and know, and possibly remember. You shall know me by the people I have known."

With over sixty-five books published, including the highly acclaimed novel A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE and a series of Soup books that won him the prestigious Mark Twain Award, Robert Newton Peck is a well-seasoned author with an established readership. His books have explored a variety of subjects from his boyhood experiences in rural Vermont to tales about making ends meet while growing up on a farm, as a cattle rancher, or as a solider during the French and Indian War. WEEDS IN BLOOM, Peck's latest literary endeavor, is a simple yet enjoyable autobiography that unfolds as a series of sketches of various people who have influenced his life over the past seventy years.

True to his word, WEEDS IN BLOOM has no plot. Instead, each chapter focuses on a character who fits respectively into one of three periods in Peck's life: his "Vermont Boyhood," his "Early Manhood," and the "Florida Years." Although some readers may miss the safety that accompanies a linear story line, others will feel less bogged down by the lack of a traditional arc, and will delight in using their own imaginations to continue where Peck has left off in each tiny vignette. It is as if he has knowingly created 25 beginnings to 25 possible stories, and by reading through them, his readers are given access to the essence of his life by getting to know the people he has encountered along the way.

In Part I: Vermont Boyhood, Peck explores his childhood in all its rugged, wide-eyed glory. Here, we bear witness to his life at home with his family, complete with all the trappings of a carefree adolescence: practicing baseball in the sweltering summer heat, playing in the dirt until dusk, and learning life-long lessons from his elders. Two of the most memorable chapters in the book are in this first section --- "Miss Kelly," when Robert writes his first poem and shares it with his teacher, Miss Kelly (who proves to be a lasting inspiration for Peck), and "Keepsake," when he and his best friend Luther sneak into a truck stop bathroom to buy their first condom at the age of ten. (A humorous side note: Peck actually kept this same condom with him until well after his return from the Army, when he promptly buried the torn and ratty thing in the backyard as a tribute to his boyhood.)

Part II: Early Manhood charts Peck's life in the army and the years immediately following his return. In "Dear Elliot," we meet a dear friend and fellow soldier who touched the lives of those around him by simply sharing his care packages from home. Unfortunately, he was killed in battle, but not before altering Peck's life for the better. In "Saw" and "Paper," Peck tells of his grueling yet enlightening experiences in the saw and paper mills, and in "Dr. Granberry" we are introduced to a football scout for small colleges that would change Peck's life forever by pushing him to go to college and providing him with a scholarship.

Part III: The Florida Years covers the last third of Peck's life up to the present. For the most part, these stories take place in Florida and bear the fruit of his past journeys. As most storytellers are apt to do when looking back on their lives, he sounds wiser and well-worn in these passages, and the people (and animals) we meet in this section are weathered as well. The last entry entitled "Just as I Am" is a delightful list of thirty-three tried-and-true beliefs and expressions that he has stumbled across and stuck to throughout his life, the last of which being: "Wish not for apples. Grow strong trees."

All in all an interesting and personal retrospective of an accomplished author and well-loved cowboy, WEEDS IN BLOOM will surely satisfy young adult readers, particularly those fond of autobiographies and nonfiction.

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