Mr. Moore's Opus

First there was the passion for English and the woman he loved. Then came the pain.

As he did at St. John's, Moore used his unique teaching style to share his love of words with his students.

"You never knew which personality was going to walk into the classroom," says Craig Wade, a member of the Chinquapin class of 1982, who teaches at the school. It might be the Mr. Moore who read dramatically from Frost's poetry. Or the Mr. Moore who, during a tension-filled test, would jump on his desk, rip open his shirt and pound his chest. It could even be the Mr. Moore who, if a student was falling asleep, would simply pour a glass of water on the youngster's head.

Moore had strong ideas. He infuriated Chinquapin's board members by suggesting employees be paid based on what they needed, not on what they did. He had a temper. He had moods. He wanted things that should be taken seriously to be taken seriously. Sometimes if a Chinquapin youth did something Moore thought merited expulsion, he might yell that the kid should leave and start walking back home to Houston. Sometimes the offending youngster would actually start the 25-mile trek, and it was wife Maxine who would get in her car, drive after the student and talk Moore into letting him stay.

"He'd flare up, and she'd calm him down," says the school's director of development, Anne Smith, who knew the Moores since 1976.

Maxine was the quiet one, often in the background. But she was Bob's anchor. She'd had her individual successes as a pianist and tennis player at Reed College, before the two met. But she was primarily -- and proudly -- Bob's partner.

"She was incredibly strong, and she just wanted to be with him, no matter what," says their son Topper. "They adored each other."

The adoration only grew stronger once the couple retired in 1983 and moved to Palestine. He taught creative writing to local senior citizens; she volunteered at a hospital. Together they pored over crossword puzzles, and Maxine even created a few and sold them to magazines. At night they took walks. And when Maxine got sick and came back to Houston for treatment, he rarely left her side.

After Maxine's death, Moore tried desperately to regain a foothold by teaching again. He feared the depression eating at him was affecting his work at Chinquapin, but he refused suggestions from his family and friends to see a doctor. Those who were close to him knew he thought of taking his own life and that he might have tried it before.

Because, for Moore, life was simply not the same without Maxine. He still wrote letters to her every day. He placed copies of a favorite picture of her in nearly every room of the house. Of course, it was not enough. It seemed as if the same joyful intensity he felt for Maxine and his students had reversed itself into a depression that couldn't be cured. And it seemed, in a strange way, the grief became his friend, and he was almost afraid to get over it. Because that might mean getting over Maxine.

"Many of us expected him to snap out of it," says former student Molly Ivins. "But he was in terrible pain. And it would not stop for him."

On May 2 Moore drove his car to the side of his house in Palestine. He ran a hose from the exhaust pipe through a bedroom window, started the engine, went inside and killed himself by asphyxiation.

Moore left one final message behind. It was a note to his Maxine. He thanked her for loving him.

The memorial service -- a sad student reunion -- came last week at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church. Every age and color made up the packed crowd, representing all the avenues in Moore's diverse life. His three sons, Topper, Andy and Ricky, sat up front with their wives and children. The current crop of college-bound Chinquapin kids grouped together. Members of the elite St. John's community turned out in force for the farewell.

"It makes us angry to see he was not immune to the same demons that we are not immune to," says the Reverend Thomas Currie, a Moore student at St. John's. "But he knew what was at stake in living a life that mattered and how hard that can be."

Currie read from one of Moore's favorite poems, Robert Frost's Birches, which Moore had shared with countless students. It is a poem about life's path and the love created during that life.

"I'd like to get away from the earth awhile and then come back to it and begin over," Currie read to the quiet congregation. "May no fate willfully misunderstand me and half grant what I wish and snatch me away not to return. Earth's the right place for love.

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Bob Moore was my uncle - my mom's brother.   I remember him coming to our house when I was a kid and my mom would quit cooking while he was there and let him do the gourmet cooking.  

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