Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Two teenage boys stood beneath the hay loft where a hay conveyor belt was in operation.
Robert “Bob” Hawkes competes in archery. He won over 350 trophies, medals and plaques in competitions.
Each day the newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person's family and friends in lasting ways.
Robert Charles "Bob" Hawkes looked up from the floor of the barn just in time to see the conveyor sliding and falling toward the boys.
He shoved the boys to safety, but was not able to avoid being hit by the conveyor, which weighed several hundred pounds.
"It broke his back and severed his spine instantaneously," said his daughter, Diantha Grant of Jacksonville, Fla. "He probably saved their lives."
At the time of the accident -- July 22, 1958 -- Mr. Hawkes was working as superintendent of the Opportunity Farm for Boys in New Gloucester. He would spend the next 54 years in a wheelchair.
"He knew what happened (right after the accident). He knew he was paralyzed," his daughter said.
Mr. Hawkes, a former resident of Yarmouth, New Gloucester and the Bangor area, died July 15 at Haven Hospice Roberts Care Center in Palatka, Fla. He was 90.
He had been living in Florida since 1980, but spent many summers at his cottage on Sabbathday Lake.
In 1950, Mr. Hawkes and his wife, Rebecca, moved to Yarmouth, where he taught physical education and coached for North Yarmouth Academy. He helped establish several girls sports teams while at NYA.
"He wanted people to be active throughout their lives, so he emphasized participating in sports like golf and skiing," his daughter said.
He also served as director of the Bangor Regional Speech and Hearing Center for 16 years before moving to Florida, where he became a speech therapist at a school in Jacksonville.
After the farming accident, Mr. Hawkes underwent an extensive rehabilitation program at Massachusetts General Hospital.
He inspired many people during his lifetime, serving as a mentor and peer counselor to individuals with spinal cord and head injuries.
In 1959, NYA established the Bob Hawkes award for male and female athletes who demonstrate outstanding leadership, citizenship and sportsmanship.
Mr. Hawkes competed in the 1959 and 1960 National Wheelchair Games in Flushing, N.Y. He won three swimming events and was selected to the first U.S. wheelchair team to compete in the International Stoke-Mandeville Games, which were held in Rome.
From 1960 to 1969, he won gold, silver and bronze medals in swimming at the games in Rome, Tokyo and Israel. He also competed in archery and discus events.
His family said Mr. Hawkes won over 350 trophies, medals and plaques in various competitions since 1959.
In 1977, he became the first disabled athlete to be inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame of Maine, and in 2010 he was inducted into the North Yarmouth Academy Athletic Hall of Fame.
"He never looked back (after the accident). He'd say 'I don't have time to feel sorry for myself,' " his daughter said.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: