ROBERT (BOB) BRIDGEFORD 1943-2013
Former Executive Director of the Portland Children’s Museum, Robert (Bob) Bridgeford died April 11 at home following a decline in health related to chronic illness. For the past decade Bob lived in Sisters with wife Annie Painter, where he served as president of the Deschutes Watershed Council and returned to graduate school, becoming a therapist at Deschutes County Mental Health.
Bob was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts December 1, 1943 to parents Glendon Roy Bridgeford and Vera Lydia Steele Bridgeford. During that period, his father worked as an engineer for the war effort at Harvard on the anti-aircraft material called "chaff". After the war he worked for Bell Labs and "Ma Bell,” transferring to Portland, where Bob attended Hayhurst School through 8th grade and graduated from Wilson High School (1961).
His life-long friend from Hayhurst days, David Collins, remembers that “we discovered girls, and dating, and Bob began his lifelong love of fast driving and sports cars as teenagers, cruising Broadway on Friday nights and exploding a great number of fireworks we smuggled across the river each summer. We both went off to Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, where we both met our first wives both named Nancy Jean.
In 1967, Bob married Nancy Jean Cannon in Waukesha, Wisconsin, her home town. Their daughter, Kristen was born in 1973 in Portland. Kristen (Kris) recalls, “My mom went to grad school at Berkley while dad was in the Reserves. Due to the anti-war protests he often had to quickly change out of his military uniform once he arrived for a visit in order to not be harassed on campus.” In 1980 he married Annie Painter, with whom he shared is life until his death.
His undergraduate work began at Lawrence University where his focus was anthropology and psychology. He completed his BS in Anthropology at Portland State University in 1969 with an additional 40 hours of graduate level training in management and operations. In 1986, while Director of the Portland Children’s Museum, Bob received a Getty Fellowship to attend the Museum Management Institute at University of California at Berkeley. At this time he earned additional certificates from the City of Portland in Supervision, Employment Law and other management related skills.
During his more than 25 years as Executive Director of the Children’s Museum, the organization flourished and grew from the beloved little brick building (a former nurses residence for OHSU) on Lair Hill Park, to a nationally recognized, regional treasure that included ground breaking exhibits and innovative programming. Always based on childhood developmental research, families loved the PLEASE TOUCH exhibits. A seasonal favorite was the Ten Best and Ten Worst Toys exhibit, always judged by childhood development specialists>
Innovation included outreach as well. In various Portland locations with an exhibit called Homes on the Go, children imagined life on a real Chinese Junk (painstakingly purchased and shipped from China), a fully furnished Yurt and an Airstream Trailer.
When Bob began as Director of the Junior Museum (later the Portland Children’s Museum) there were just two employees. When he left in 1994, he was the CEO of a major non-profit organization with a staff of 40, a board of 20 and co-sponsorship from municipal government.
Bob’s efforts and considerable skill in development resulted in generating more than five million dollars in his final three years at the Museum. Throughout his leadership and continuing to his death, Bob was an active spokesperson for education, the arts and children’s rights. He was recognized locally and nationally with numerous awards and professional honors including the receipt in 1990 of his fourth operating grant to the museum from the Institute of Museum Services, which he accepted from Barbara Bush at the White House. In the same month, Bob was elected vice president of the Association of Youth Museums.
After his move to Central Oregon, he completed training as a State of Oregon Certified Mediator and served as for five years as a Mediator in Conflict Resolution Services for Deschutes District Courts.
When he and his wife, Annie Painter Bridgeford, art educator and former Gresham school principal, moved permanently to Sisters, Bob began a five year service as President of the Deschutes River Watershed Council (1996-2002) Bob took time in 2000 to design and build a custom home addition to the modest cabin originally used as a vacation get-away. During that time, Bob frequently pitched in as publisher and business advisor in a partnership with Annie devoted to their shared support for the arts and arts education.
In 2004, in his late 50’s Bob returned to school, commuting from Sisters and living with close friends, the Brindas, three days a week to complete his Master of Arts in Counseling degree from Pacific University. A new career followed as a therapist at Deschutes County Mental Health. When his health declined, he still managed two days a week as a volunteer there. Being engaged, making a difference, having purpose meant the world to Bob.
For as long as anyone has known Bob, cars have been a passion. He was an official Jaguar show judge and frequent participant in the Monte Shledon rally and classic cars shows in Nevada (where he also raced his Corvette), Canada and the Northwest. In 2011, he completed the restoration of a 1969 primrose yellow Jaguar XKE, bought a big red trailer and hauled it to the All British Field Meet in Portland where it won Best Restoration, shown for the first time at the Jaguar Owner’s Club of Oregon, JNCA Councours.
His ebony black 1965 XKE has piled up numerous pewter award plates and because it is in the ‘driven’ class, enjoyed engine improvements that made it a competitive Slalom car for Bob and his friend Bobby Brinda, who won 2nd and 1st respectively at the All British Field Meet at PIR in 2010.
Family and friends remember Bob as having a quirky sense of humor. He and Annie often set up little scenes with plastic lizards that got into lots of trouble in kitchen. He loved to draw these lizards, animating them in conversations with cartoon balloons. Another creative outlet was his addition of speech balloons to the many wedding pictures of brides and grooms in the Oregonian. Annie remembers the weekend routine included ‘doing the brides’ after reading the Sunday paper.
He was a brilliant thinker and leader, uncompromising in his expectation that things—especially mechanical, architectural and artistic—be done very, very well.