The Rev. Henry H. L. Bird was part of the “Greatest Generation.” Born in the roaring twenties, he witnessed the challenges of the Great Depression, served in World War II, and played a quiet but substantial role in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and 70s. His service to the poor, attending to the indigent and pursuing justice for the underserved, was matched only by his passion for rowing and devotion to his wife, Hilde, and family. Reverend Henry H.L. Bird died peacefully on Thursday, June 13 surrounded by his loving family at home and overlooking his beloved Casco Bay and Yarmouth Island. He was 86.
Born in Wilmington, Del. to H. Lonsdale Miner and Samuel Bancroft Bird, Henry spent his early years there and in Chadds Ford, Pa. Beginning at age seven, he spent several months every summer on Yarmouth Island, Me. with his aunt, uncle and cousins. It was there he learned how to swim, row and sail, and where many of his lifelong skills were formed.
Reverend Bird attended and graduated from Middlesex School in Concord, and served in World War II as a Naval Medical Corpsman. He was honorably discharged in 1946 and received the Victory Medal. After volunteering for service in the Navy, he attended Princeton University, where he received a Bachelor of Science in biology. He was awarded a place in the Sigma Xi Honor Society for his scientific research on his senior thesis. He rowed throughout all of his school years, and was captain and stroke for the Princeton lightweight crew. After a brief teaching fellowship at Bowdoin College, he was called to the ministry and attended the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, where he received his Master of Divinity. He was ordained an Episcopal priest in 1956.
More important, during seminary, he met his true love, Hildegarde deVermandois Brewster, to whom he was married for 58 years.
His calling took him and his family on a fascinating journey, which included St. Paul’s in Bedford, St. Andrew’s in Edgartown, St. Paul’s in Brunswick, Me., summer chapels on Orr’s and Bailey Islands in Maine, San Juan Navajo Mission in Farmington, N.M., St. Michael’s in Upper Fruitland, N.M., Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Socorro, N.M., St. Paul’s in Truth or Consequences, N.M., Urban Indian Ministries in Albuquerque, N.M., South Freeport Congregational in South Freeport, Me., and the Down-East Cluster Mission, a consortium of three Episcopal churches in Stonington, Castine and Blue Hill, Me., as well as many places in between.
A veteran for peace, Henry supported peaceful actions for humanity throughout the community, church and world. Though his involvement in the civil rights movement was significant, it was his efforts to improve education, health and retain the dignity of indigenous populations from Maine to New Mexico that marked his substantial ministry. He was instrumental in the ordination of the first Navajo priest into the Episcopal church.
Rowing was a true passion from an early age. He was a lifelong member of the U.S. Rowing Association and the Maine Rowing Association, and was active in as many Maine rowing races as he could participate in. He rowed year-round in Casco Bay with Hilde and his four-legged companion Bosun (“Bo”) as his crew. In his age group he rowed in the Head of the Charles regattas in Boston until the age 76. There was always the color orange to be seen about him and his boats.
He was active in volunteering at the Harpswell Islands School, a School Administrative District 75 mentor, and served at an area food bank and Habitat for Humanity. He also was a diligent daily letter writer. He most recently completed and published his memoir, Ride the Wind.
He is survived by his wife, Hilde; his children, William Bird and wife Sally; Holloway Bird Barreras and husband Marcus, Tad Bird and wife Patty; Paul Bird, and Anna-Sarah Bird Mueller and husband Michael; and nine grandchildren, Peter Bird, James Bird, Asher Barreras, Leah Barreras, Benjamin Henry Barreras, Elizabeth Bird, Holloway Bird, Andrew Bird and Makayla Mueller.
A memorial service to celebrate Henry’s life will be held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 27 Pleasant Street, Brunswick, Me. at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, July 13. A reception is scheduled to follow the service.
In lieu of flowers, please consider memorials in Henry Bird’s name to the The Bath Area Food Bank, P.O. Box 65, Bath, ME, 04530; Midcoast Hunger Prevention Program, 84 A Union St., Brunswick, ME 04011; The Episcopal Relief and Development, P.O. Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058; and the Cundy’s Harbor Fire Department, c/o B. Taylor, 45 Taylor Road, Harpswell, ME 04079.