Long-time Irvingtonian Robert K. Massie Dies at 90

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By Barrett Seaman

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Robert K. Massie III died December 2nd of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. He first moved to Irvington November 22, 1963, the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and spent much of his adult life in one of two houses on West Clinton Avenue. His passing is noted at length in both the New York Times and the English-language Moscow Times, as he is well-known in Russia for his books on the Czars: Nicholas and Alexandra, inspired by the birth of his son (with first wife Suzanne Massie) — Robert Kinloch Massie IV (Bobby) — who, like Tsarevich Alexei, Nicholas’ heir apparent, was born with hemophilia; Peter the Great, for which he won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize; The Romanovs: The Final Chapter (1995); and Catherine the Great, which won a PEN Award in 2012.

Bobby Massie, an ordained Episcopal priest and activist engaged in progressive causes in Massachusetts, has had several unsuccessful bids for elected office there but remains involved in issues such as climate change and corporate responsibility. Suzanne and Bob also had two daughters: Susanna M. Thomas and Elizabeth Massie.

Robert Massie III and Suzanne divorced in 1990. Two years later, he married his literary agent Deborah Karl. They had three children: Christopher, Nora and Sophia. His most recent books were Dreadnought and Castles of Steel, about the military competition between Germany and Britain leading up to World War I. All told, his books have sold more than six million copies.

Robert Kilnoch Massie III was born January 5, 1929 in Versaille, Kentucky, near Lexington but spent most of his youth in Nashville. He studied history at Yale and won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford. Originally interested in a career either as a teacher or a lawyer, he abandoned that after Suzanne became pregnant with Bobby in favor of a series of jobs in journalism in order to pay the bills. He worked for a time for Theodore H. White, future author of The Making of the President, when he was at Colliers, but then joined Newsweek as a book critic, eventually writing features for The Saturday Evening Post. He never lost his affection for magazine journalism and was happy to share “war stories” with other old hands. He would occasionally fill in for John McPhee, substitute teaching his non-fiction writing course at Princeton University.

A slight figure with a patrician air that was softened by a wry smile, Bob Massie was a familiar figure in Irvington, often seen walking the Aqueduct between his house on West Clinton and Main Street. Twice (against his better judgment), he participated in a spelling bee sponsored by the Friends of the Irvington Library as a member of a three-person team called The Writers’ Bloc that lost in the final round its first year.

Massie is survived by Deborah, Suzanne, his six children, seven grandchildren, and a great-grandson.

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