Bob McCormick

Six days after Robert McCormick died at age 70 on July 16, his eight children gathered at his home in Sanford to honor him by building a casket for his burial on Friday.

McCormick’s barn hadn’t been opened up for some time. Inside, the siblings found a treasure trove – an assortment of things he collected during his years working as a mason, a landscaper and a maintenance man.

McCormick had saved the weathered door from his old farmhouse in Acton. He saved and repurposed floorboards from a basketball court at Wells Elementary School, where he worked for more than 10 years. He collected tools, saved broken tools, and held onto memories of his early years, like a placard that said, “No nukes in Seabrook, N.H.” and a license plate with the slogan, “Let go, let God.”

“We found all these things,” said his son Conor McCormick. “It was a really good healing process.”

McCormick’s children all contributed to building his casket. His oldest son, Seamus McCormick, oversaw the structural design. His only daughter, Forreste McCormick, learned how to use a drill press. The old weathered door from McCormick’s Acton home became the top of the casket. Noah McCormick used leftover boards from the basketball court to create a herringbone pattern on the top of the casket. Conor McCormick used the ax handles he broke to create handles to carry the casket. A family friend contributed a metal Celtic Tree of Life, which his kids secured to the top.

The inside of the old weathered door that serves as the top of Robert McCormick’s casket. On it are stickers of sayings he lived by: “Keep It Simple” and “Easy Does it.” Photo by Conor McCormick

Inside the casket, McCormick is facing two stickers of sayings he lived by: “Keep It Simple” and “Easy Does it.”

“It looked so beautiful. It was perfect,” Conor McCormick said.

The casket was so heavy, it took all of McCormick’s children to carry him into the Unitarian Universalist Church in Sanford for his service on Friday. The church was standing room only. His oldest son delivered a eulogy that outlined the four rules McCormick lived by. Conor McCormick summed up his brother’s eulogy on Sunday.

“First, find value in things that have been forgotten or tossed away,” he said. “Second, you’ve got to get out of the truck if you want to make any money. You’ve got to show up, engage, and work hard to make a difference. Third, no ego. My father was someone who had no ego. His fourth rule was to love hard. We McCormicks love hard. We love wholeheartedly. We give everything and never give up.”

The service was a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much of himself to others. McCormick was a mason by trade and a chimney sweep who ran his own business out of Newburyport, Massachusetts, for about 20 years. Around 1995, he moved to an old farmhouse in Acton. He ran his own landscape business and mowed thousands of lawns throughout the Sanford-Wells area. Some of his longtime accounts include the Goodall Library and Unitarian Universalist Church. He moved many lawns for free, Conor McCormick said.

“We mowed and pruned and shoveled out the church so many times and I don’t think he ever charged them a dime,” his son said. “He was an outstanding person.”

Conor also reflected on the years he worked with his father.

“That’s where he and I developed our relationship,” he said. “We had this poetic movement about the day. We never really talked. We knew what each other needed. There weren’t many words exchanged. We were just trying to be as efficient as possible so that we could get home and jump in the lake and enjoy ourselves.”

McCormick worked in the facilities department at Wells Elementary School for over 10 years. At the start of his shift, the students would give him high-fives on their way out. The library always saved him the books it intended to get rid of. He retired about five years ago.

Saved boards from a school gym floor make a herringbone pattern on the casket made by Robert McCormick’s children. Photo by Conor McCormick

“He would bring the books to my kids or nieces and nephews,” Conor McCormick said. “The books were all missing a page or something like that, but the love was there. We all knew he was so frugal so we made up a story about the missing page. That was the type of stuff we had to do. He was a very sweet man.”

McCormick had a blended family of eight children from three marriages. He was married to Lily McCormick for 25 years. They lived in Sanford.

McCormick had been 32 years sober at the time of his death. Throughout his life, he worked with men struggling with alcoholism and addiction. He led 12-step meetings at the York County Jail for many years.

“He counseled countless people through the years,” Conor said. “I never knew who would be sleeping on the couch, but I knew if they made it there, then they were important enough to my dad. He was an incredible man.”

McCormick’s final act of service was mowing the lawn at his friend’s house in Tantallon, Nova Scotia. At one point while he was mowing, he stopped and lay down in the tall grass under the shade of a birch tree overlooking the ocean. His wife rushed to his side and soon thereafter he died. His son believes he suffered a heart attack.

“This has hit us hard, but it’s shown us how much of an impact he’s had on us,” Conor said. “To me, he was the greatest man that ever lived.”

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