Five months after his death, the lessons of Robert Drown Sr. live on  

  • Robert Drown III holds the remains box of his grandfather, farmer Robert Drown, Sr., at the burial site in Webster on Sunday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Bodi Silver drives the tractor with his relatives in tow carrying the cremains for his grandfather, farmer Robert Drown, Sr. in Webster on Sunday, May 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Robert Drown III puts down the cremains of his grandfather, farmer Robert Drown, Sr. as his grandmother, Kay looks on at the burial of Drown Sr. on Sunday, May 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Bodi Silver drives the family tractor up Route 127 in Webster toward the burial for his grandfather, farmer Robert Drown, Sr., on Sunday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Kay Drown with her family and friends at the burial of her husband, Robert Drown, Sr. in Webster on Sunday, May 16, 2022. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff


Monitor staff
Published: 5/16/2022 5:00:26 PM

The tractor looked small at first, a tiny figure 100 yards away, chugging up a steep hill on Route 127 Sunday in Webster.

Eventually, the far-away hum grew louder, the vision larger, revealing a machine with two giant wheels, driven by one of the patriarch’s grandsons. A wooden box – a homemade urn built by a son-in-law – rested between the driver’s feet.

The tractor, for decades used by Robert Drown Sr. at Drown Farm, pulled a hay wagon the size of Rhode Island. Drown’s other five pallbearers, part of the king-sized stable of 12 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren, stood on each side of the wagon.

They buried the urn a mile away, at Corser Hill Cemetery, in a square opening dug by – you guessed it – two other grandsons.

This represented closure for the family. Drown Sr. died five months ago at the age of 88. Late spring was targeted for the burial of his ashes, for a man who started small like that distant tractor on Route 127, then grew into an undeniable buzz within the farming community.

Call it a changing of the guard.

“The challenge now for everyone is finding qualified help,” said Beth Silver, 51, the youngest of Drown’s four daughters and the new boss. “Not so much school people, but people who can be around the animals and handle them in a safe and humane manner. But the cost of everything is going up, and to keep the farm running is hard.”

Farm work suited Drown quite well. “A Yankee farmer,” Willie Carter of Barnstead, Drown’s son-in-law, called him.

That meant keeping emotions close to his vest. It meant thumbing your nose at a 12-hour workday, and a strict code of conduct laid out for his children. More than one family member said Drown’s motto was “No workie, no eatie, no sleepie.”

“He used to say it to all of the grandchildren and their friends,” Silver said. “If you don’t help, you don’t eat here or sleep here. You have to do a little bit of work.”

Unfortunately, Yankee Farmer sometimes refers to a stubborn streak, and that’s what Drown showed after doctors found spots on his liver in 2014.

He refused further testing. He lived with cancer for eight years. “He never knew it was cancerous,” his wife Kay said. “A mass was found and he chose not to have a biopsy done. He said he didn’t want it to spread.”

That made no sense, of course. But it was Drown’s method of rationalizing his resistance to a complete diagnosis and then treatment.

His shell wasn’t always hard, though. He’d take his workers to Newick’s Lobster House to say thanks. He took his family out for ice cream and to fish. He and Kay went square dancing together.

Meanwhile, Drown’s rough-around-the-edges exterior paid off in the long run. His dairy farm had 16 cows when he bought it 66 years ago. Today it has 200 cows. And 52 acres of land.

He got married three years prior to the farm’s birth. He and Kay met at Simonds Free High School in Warner. She said the farm kept her “very busy.”

Kay used a walker to move around the house adjacent to the farm, at 1345 Battle St. She was pleasant and to the point, never saying much, never wasting words.

“I miss him,” she said.

Once upon a time, Kay rose at 3 a.m. to milk the cows. In fact, that’s how Drown raised his five children. To work. Before school. Then after, too.

No one is aware of what it will take to keep the farm afloat more than Silver. She listed what needs to be done, the daily chores: milking, planting, crop work, haying, feeding livestock, hauling manure and equipment maintenance.

“I don’t like a mess,” Silver said. “Not everyone is like that and it makes it difficult some time, but my dad had always wanted it to be a showpiece.”

Silver grew emotional when she said, “I told him I would try.”

She’s been helping her father on the farm for decades, once juggling school with utters before taking the controls recently and leading the way into the future.

These days, she’s up at 3 a.m. to milk the cows and tends to 80 head of cattle. Then she’s off to her other full-time job, as an administrative assistant for Webster Elementary School.

Then she comes home to do housework and return to the farm. She has one full-time employee and will need more. Her father has already laid the groundwork for sharpening her time management skills.

Somehow, Drown served on the Webster Board of Selectmen, the Town Hall Building Committee and the Landfill Committee. He also worked for the town’s fire and police departments. He served on the board of the Merrimack County Farm Bureau and advocated for other farmers.

“He worked in the field here until October and he died in December,” said Bev Clark, another of Drown’s four daughters. “He had regular aches and pains, but he was out in the field and still going strong, and he wanted the farm to continue, so that is what the family is hoping to achieve.”

First, though, there was some unfinished family business to complete: an official farewell to highlight the respect Drown had earned.

His grandchildren’s fingerprints were everywhere. They built the urn, a small wooden box resembling a ballot box. They brought it to the cemetery, with Bodi Silver, the youngest grandson, driving the tractor and securing the urn between his feet.

The other five pallbearers climbed out from the back of the hay wagon, then lined up in a single file. Robert Drown III was out front, holding the urn. They marched toward the gravesite and presented the urn for burial.

Kay sat in front, on the first day of real heat and humidity this spring. The Rev. Dave Richardson of the First Congregational Church of Webster presided over the funeral.

More than 100 people attended. Afterward, the tractor rolled down the hill, back to the farm.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Silver said. “It’s hard without him, but I’m going to try to keep it alive.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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