Published: January 17, 2016
EAST DENNIS, MASS. – Robert C. Eldred, Jr., chairman emeritus of the East Dennis auction house bearing his name, died suddenly on Sunday, January 17, at home. He was 72.
Eldred spent much of his career at the firm founded by his father, Robert Eldred, Sr. With Richard Withington, Robert Skinner and Richard Bourne, his friends and frequent competitors, he dominated the New England auction scene in the post-World War II years.
Writing of his father, Joshua Eldred, the firm’s vice president, noted, “he spent his life and career at the same pace: full speed ahead. He had an intense work ethic, an insatiable appetite for discovery and an unparalleled passion for the antiques auction business. I don’t think he ever woke up in the morning not wanting to go to work. He absolutely loved what he did each day.”
Bob was born in Mineola, N.Y., on November 5, 1943, to Robert C. Eldred, Sr. and Edna Miller Eldred. He moved to East Dennis at the age of one and attended the Ezra Baker School. He was a graduate of Proctor Academy and the 1965 class of Middlebury College. While at Middlebury he entered the ROTC program, and upon graduation he served his country with honor in Vietnam, receiving a Purple Heart as a First Lieutenant in the 173rd Airborne.
Upon his return to the States, he was stationed in Pittsfield, Mass., where he would meet the love of his life and future wife of 46 years, Mary Ann Giddings. After a brief career at International Silver, Bob returned to Cape Cod to join his father’s antiques and fine art auction firm.
Bob joined the company in 1969, becoming its president in 1978 after the retirement of Robert C. Eldred, Sr. Over the course of his career, Bob oversaw Eldred’s growth from a small estates auction company to a leading regional firm with an international book of business.
Josh Eldred wrote, “While he would obviously get excited about the big ‘hits’ and the opportunity to sell high-profile collections, he was just as happy hunting through the rural attics and damp basements of New England for that elusive relic of the whaling age or an overlooked lost masterpiece. He was most excited to find things he had never seen before – things that required him to retreat to his vast personal library of research books to unravel their mystery.
He continued, “It was all about the journey for him, and more important than the objects he unearthed were the countless friendships he discovered along the way. He particularly loved to see his friends during auction exhibits, where he would whisk them around, proudly showing off his favorite items while regaling them with his latest batch of jokes.
“For Bob, antiques were not only a tangible connection to history but also an infinite bridge to the future. Every deal and every find created new stories and new friends. It is in these stories where Bob can best be remembered. My father was one of a kind. I will miss his friendship, mentorship and love, but I know his spirit will live on through his countless friends and clients,” Josh Eldred concluded.
In retirement Bob spent his days curating his extensive collection of books and serving as a trustee of the Cape Cod Maritime Museum. Over his lifetime, Bob was giving with his time, serving on numerous charitable boards including The Jacob Sears Memorial Library in East Dennis, the Atwood House Museum in Chatham, the Dennis Historical Society, and the Cape Playhouse’s Raymond Moore Foundation. He was a fixture every summer calling the annual Dennis Union Church Auction on the Dennis Village Green. He was also a longtime volunteer call firefighter and EMT in Dennis.
In addition to his son, Bob Eldred is survived by a large family, including his wife Mary Ann, his children Joshua Eldred of Brewster (Sarah) and Sarah Taylor of East Dennis (Eric), and grandchildren Loring, Maxwell, Soren, and Elianna. He is also survived by his sister, Karen Erwin-Stephan of Germany, his stepsiblings John and Sue Schofield of Dennis, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Calling hours are Tuesday, January 26 , from 3 to 6 pm at Hallett Funeral Home, 273 Station Avenue in South Yarmouth, Mass. A service in Eldred’s memory is planned for Wednesday, January 27, at 11 am, at Dennis Union Church, 713 Main Street in Dennis, Mass. A reception will follow at Eldred’s Auction, 1483 Main Street, East Dennis, to share memories of Bob.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Cape Cod Maritime Museum, PO Box 443, Hyannis, MA 02601, or the Dennis Firefighters Association, PO Box 345, West Dennis, MA 02670.
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