Robert C. Zeeb

Boston Globe: November 13, 2009

By Brock Parker, Globe Correspondent

At 71 years old, retired Newton educator Robert Zeeb wasn't slowing down. He was gearing up to ride his bicycle across the country. Every other day Zeeb would ride his bicycle 60 miles in trips that took him from Newton to Concord, Sudbury, Weston or Boston, and he was pushing himself to ride further in preparation for his coast to coast ride next June.

"He figured he was going to have to go about 80 miles a day," said Zeeb's son, Noel Zeeb. "It was about the act itself, for him. He wasn't a racer."

But Monday during a ride that took Robert Zeeb up to Arlington, he crashed his bicycle along Route 2 and died the following day from his injuries.

Witnesses told State Police that Zeeb crashed along the westbound side of Route 2 east of Exit 60 at 10:22 a.m. Monday, not far from the Alewife T station. A witness told police that it appeared as if Zeeb�s bicycle struck a hole for an electrical box in the ground, and that no other vehicles were involved in the accident.

Zeeb's family is upset the hole wasn't covered and is looking for answers. "I'm going to need to talk to them to see why that wasn�t there," Noel Zeeb said Saturday.

One witness at the scene told state police that when he had arrived the cover for the hole with the electrical box was several feet away from the hole, which was filled with leaves, said David Procopio, a spokesman for state police.

The area in which Zeeb crashed is a partially paved sidewalk beside Route 2 in the jurisdiction of the state highway department, now a division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, which responded to the scene and replaced the cover for the electrical box, Procopio said.

The electrical box might be for a nearby street lamp, Procopio said. Adam Hurtubise, a spokesman with the state Department of Transportation, declined to comment Saturday because of the ongoing state police investigation into the accident.

After the accident, two witnesses, whose names have not been released, were driving westbound along Route 2, and pulled over to try and help the bicyclist. Zeeb, who had been wearing a helmet, appeared to have head injuries and was taken to Beth Israel Hospital, Procopio said.

For now, the Zeeb family is more focused on remembering his father�s life than on the details of his death, Noel said.

In addition to being an avid bicyclist most of his life, Robert Zeeb worked for 39 years for Newton public schools as coordinator for the district's English program.

He lived in Newton with his wife Holly Zeeb, whom he'd met as an undergraduate student at Harvard, and the couple had two sons, Peter Zeeb, 46, who now lives in Arlington, and Noel, 43, of Cambridge.

Robert Zeeb was also heavily involved with Green Decade, a non-profit environmentalist group in Newton, and was an active member at First Unitarian Society of Newton.

"He was a very big part of the community in Newton," Noel said. "He was a larger than life type of character."

Peter Smith, a board member with Green Decade, said Smith had worked on a number of environmental projects for the nonprofit group over the years. One of Zeeb's latest efforts was with an eco-team program that groups several households into teams that support and challenge each other to make their homes more environmentally friendly.

Louise Bruyn, a past president of Green Decade, said one of the non-profit group�s main efforts has been to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions contributing to global climate change. Bruyn said Zeeb was one of many workers with Green Decade who prefer to ride a bicycle because they do not create carbon dioxide emissions.

"What a horrible accident," Bruyn said. "He was a very special person."

Noel Zeeb said his father was an "extreme extrovert" who loved people and loved sharing his ideas about everything from books to politics. Robert Zeeb also chaired an adult education committee at First Unitarian Society.

"He was just always engaged with the world," Noel said. Peter Zeeb said his father was also an avid gardner, who grew about 2,000 heads of garlic a year.

Noel Zeeb said his father was always very careful on his bicycle and always wore a helmet. But Noel said he doesn�t think his father saw any danger ahead on his ride Monday.

"He had no idea," Noel said. "He didn't do anything wrong."

A memorial service will be held for Robert Zeeb Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 4 p.m. in First Unitarian Society of Newton at 1326 Washington Street in West Newton.