Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The Lost Dreams of Bert DeLeeuw

Requiem for a Radical

 by The Washington Post

He was the essential Washington activist, organizing everything from welfare rights protests to the Barry Commoner campaign. Then, still trying to change the world, he headed back to the land - and toward a fate no idealism could prepare him for.


Bert DeLeeuw

The pathologist testified that the blast entered at the victim's right posterior flank, not dead center in his back, as was commonly thought by the people of Walker Township. The weapon was an "over-and-under." Over-and-under is gun lingo for a rifle-shotgun combination, which is to say a .222 rifle mounted atop a 20-gauge. Hunters often use this model when going for turkey, although some like it for deer. The target-like wound, measuring roughly 14 centimeters in diameter, formed a very distinctive pattern of concentric circles -- a kind of smooth, horrid pebbling. Although there was probably never any real chance of survival, surgeons at J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital labored furiously to remove the pellets for close to two hours.

Bert Jay DeLeeuw was pronounced dead at 7:21 p.m.

A life was gone at 44.

It was an explosion that still reverberates, and not just in the closed-in blue-green and whale-humped valleys of Huntingdon County, Pa.

It's a tale about dogs, only it's not about dogs.

It's about a person's lifelong search for meaning and community, and the place where that search finally led him. It's about how we take our fate with us. It's about changing the externals of your life without perhaps changing the essentials of your life. It's about neighbors in bucolic America gone fatally wrong. It's about urban values against rural values. It's about the left against the right. It's about lives seeming to go somewhere and other lives (right across the macadam) seeming to go nowhere. It's about all those unexplained or unknown or too-complicated forces in the dark tunnels of a human heart that can suddenly, on the wrong day in the wrong rage in the wrong solstice, take an ugly turn into homicide.

But this is trying to tell the thing in the abstract.

Let it start with the shattering sound itself.

Which happened right about here, on the other side of this leaning fence post, in this narrow patch of green along this bowered lane, where the squash and zucchini have now long since passed their summer fulfillment. Last May 2, when Bert DeLeeuw was shot in the back by his neighbor, shot in the back at close range by a man who'd attended his wedding a year before, who'd been a guest in his home the previous New Year's, there was no squash or zucchini or any other kind of organic fulfillment in this boxlike strip of rich Pennsylvania earth, only the promise of it, just the freshly worked loamy soil of Blue Moon Farm off the Hartslog Valley Road.

Setting out new plants in mud-luscious spring, after winter has been wrestled to the ground, is one of a farmer's nearly indescribable joys. In this case the farmer had been a farmer only five seasons. Once, he'd been a city man, a Washington, D.C., man, known not for the beauty of his lettuce but for the zeal of his political organizing.

But we'll come to that.

The skeleton of the shooting, according to state police records and court transcripts and interviews and other sources, is as follows: About 5:30 on the afternoon of the 2nd, 68-year-old Bill Robb -- whose house is just across the road from the DeLeeuw place -- eased up in a burgundy sedan. Three other people were on their knees, working in the field with DeLeeuw -- his wife, Lina, and two out-of-state college-age farmhands named Sally White and Bob Weinswig. Bill Robb, native to these environs, had been on the DeLeeuw (pronounced de-LOO) property earlier that day, shortly before lunch. He'd been complaining once again and making not-so-veiled threats about the seven or eight loose-running dogs the DeLeeuws owned. He'd been glowering about how these dogs were running in packs onto his land, were scaring his grandchildren, were spooking his horses, were causing a total distraction and disruption in his life. He had a book about state game laws, and he'd been waving it. He'd been mumbling many things. He hadn't spoken to Bert DeLeeuw on that earlier visit, but had instructed one of the young farmhands to pass along a message to DeLeeuw that he had just 48 hours to do something.

Before he'd left, Robb had told the farmhand that he'd served his country, and that Bert DeLeeuw had done everything not to serve his country. He'd also said something about "maybe shooting the dogs too."

Now, though, it was late afternoon that same day, May 2, and the neighbor had shown up again at Blue Moon Farm.

On the stand at the preliminary hearing (it was held three weeks later), one of the three eyewitnesses testified that, in the penultimate seconds before the gun went off, he heard Robb -- who had the weapon up to his shoulder and was squinting down its barrel for maybe as much as 10 beats -- say, "I'm really sorry I have to make Chloe fatherless."

Chloe DeLeeuw, Bert DeLeeuw and Lina Newhouser's only child, was not quite 7 months old at that moment. She was up in the main house being tended to by a grandparent. The crack from Bill Robb's .222-20 gauge wasn't heard up there.

"He was just pointing it at Bert," testified Bob Weinswig. "And then Bert just kind of -- Bert turned around, sort of turned, and just as he turned, not to walk away or anything. It was just like he kind of knew. Like just as he turned around, Bill shot him in the back and Bert kind of went, you know, down . . ."

Many weeks later, the defendant himself, held in the county jail without bail, would vehemently insist to this reporter that the whole thing had been an accident, that there had been lots of arguing back and forth about the dogs in those final minutes, and that he, Robb, had fired off to the side to scare hell out of his neighbor, who'd been making his own threats and threatening moves, and that DeLeeuw just stepped into the shot.

This is known: Lina Newhouser is the one who careened her husband to town in their white Datsun pickup, a pickup still bearing a blue sticker on its dented bumper: "FARMS NOT ARMS." Lina Newhouser is the one who was standing perhaps four or five feet away when her husband -- he was on his feet by then -- turned and took a sidelong step or maybe two steps and then seemed to go lurching downward, almost in slow motion, into the squash plantings.

Lina Newhouser -- who is from New Orleans, and is 39, and is a single parent now -- is the one who screamed in the aftermath for George William Robb to get the hell off her property; who ran to the truck and got the watering tank off; who pulled and dragged and tried to lift the crumpled, bleeding form; who, along with one of the two farmhands, got Bert -- upside down, as it turned out -- into the cab of the pickup; who kept repeating, like a mantra in some fantastic dream, "This is really a bad joke. This is really a bad joke."

The funeral service was held at Blue Moon Farm four days later. By then most of the obituaries, local and otherwise, had appeared. Many made mention of the victim's well-to-do beginnings in suburban New Jersey; of his thoughts of the ministry during college in Michigan; of his turn toward social work and community organizing in graduate school in the late '60s; of his decade and a half spent in Washington working for such causes and minority groups as the National Welfare Rights Organization and the Movement for Economic Justice. There was mention of DeLeeuw's several marriages; of his three or four years as a self-employed carpenter after he'd given up working in electoral politics but before he'd left Washington; of his earlier roles in three presidential campaigns: George McGovern's ('72), Fred Harris's ('76), Barry Commoner's ('80). There was mention of some of the more celebrated demonstrations and protests and "actions" he'd participated in in his time -- that May 1970 sit-in at the office of Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Robert Finch, for instance. That had been one of Bert's best arrests. Photos had gone out on all the national wires.

"When you go to jail, it's such a clear, crisp definition of your belief in the issue," Bert DeLeeuw told a Washington interviewer in 1984, though that quote didn't appear in the death stories.

Actually, the people of Walker Township in Huntingdon County, Pa., were a little stunned to learn how their neighbor had done so many things in so short a life. They'd known him in an entirely different context.

* * *

The Robin Hood Hotel

It was a brick row house and it stood at 1735 T St. NW above Dupont Circle and there were roses growing in the front yard, and in its own way in its own day to its own kind of '70s Washington player it was as famous a place as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It was a haven for anyone to the left who had a cause, the farther to the left the better.

New Year's parties there were legend. Didn't need a tie, didn't need a fixed address: Come to the Robin Hood Hotel, where Bert and Madeleine lived, where a movement kicked off its shoes. Come at 11 and go home at 11 a day later if you like.

The place took its name from one of the great welfare rights slogans of the early '70s: "Robin Hood was right." There always seemed to be somebody sleeping on the sofa who was just in from Berkeley or Ann Arbor or Little Rock.

"He used to make us omelets when we came over -- and hamburger pies," remembers one old couch-sleeper at the Robin Hood. "The hamburger pies took up the entire skillet and had cheese and peppers and raisins and cashew nuts. He'd bring the frying pan over to the table and cut you up a wedge. I think sometimes I remember him more for food than I do for causes. The man loved a party."

There was good classical piano in this house. There was good marijuana in this house. There was good Ping-Pong in the basement of this house.

Bert DeLeeuw and Madeleine Adamson -- who was his second wife and today lives in Baltimore and who is still an organizer for causes on the left -- played host to parties at the Robin Hood Hotel from the mid-'70s to the mid-'80s. When they bought the house, the price was $29,500. When they put it up for sale, their lives and mutual love having gone separate ways, the asking price was $175,000. The space between those two figures seems almost a time line between what a city was, when an activist felt at home here, and what a city became, or seemed to become, when an activist called the town quits and sought to reinvent his life, though not his values, in the shadow of Tussey Mountain in rural Pennsylvania on a broken-down piece of property that offered 100 acres of woods, 50 acres of tillable fields, good pasture land, two cold streams and some very promising structures.

All you had to have was the zeal. That's one of the things people always tell you now about Bert DeLeeuw: He could go at a new idea like a man killing snakes. Once he'd refound the dream, there was one gear: fast forward.

When the Robin Hood Hotel closed its doors in early 1984, when two people were closing up their marriage as well, a party was held. Champagne was uncorked. The food, as always, was something. The printed invitations had proclaimed the event "The end of an era," and maybe it was. The specially made buttons announced that it was the end of an era too. What would the protest movement of the '60s and '70s have been without buttons? Every action always had to have a button. Not to mention media: The Post's Style section did a major story.

Bert DeLeeuw made a fine toast at the close-down of the Robin Hood and of his second marriage. He was already with his new love, Lina, just as Madeleine, his ex, was already with hers. There was a sense of separate peace that day, and maybe not just among the divorcing two.

"Living stripped of all its facets . . . reduces down to relationships," he said in his toast. "That's why this house has been so important to me. We've had parties, we've had meetings, we've had block associations." And then he said, "I am a socialist. It's because society is based on collectivity and interpersonal relationships that capitalism will fail."

Two years later, almost to the day, Bert DeLeeuw and Lina Newhouser, proprietors of a struggling organic farm in central Pennsylvania, wrote a holiday letter to their family and friends and old common causers back in Washington. It was supposed to be a New Year's message, but characteristically got sent out a bit late -- near the end of January.

"Our life here as producers -- getting our hands dirty and our backs tired -- is one we look forward to, as it places us squarely in the heart of our new community and provides a context for our political, cultural, and intellectual aspirations and activities," the pilgrim farmers wrote. "We especially hope that, over the distances that separate us, we will be able to share in the struggle to create societies that honor peace over militarism, liberation over oppression, collective enterprise over greed."

One of the co-signers of the letter would have a little over four years and four months to pursue that dream . . . From court transcripts at the preliminary hearing:

Q. I'm curious. You heard a horse. Did you see a horse?

A. No, no, no. And Bert said that Mr. Robb has a tape recording of his horse which he plays down the road just to bother the dogs. They were all barking and we told them to calm down and stop. We kept working and we heard a car coming down the road and it was Mr. Robb's red Oldsmobile. And he said to me, he said, did you give Mr. DeLeeuw my message. I said -- I mean, Mr. DeLeeuw was, you know, 20 feet away from me. Heard him say this. I just didn't really understand the point of responding. And so he pulled up his car a little more and he was still in it and he's like, Mr. DeLeeuw, and he said that a couple times, you know, Mr. DeLeeuw. And, you know, Bert's sitting there trying to work because I guess Mr. Robb would come by quite often. We're all sitting there trying to work and he's saying stuff like, you don't respect me. You don't respect anyone. He's like, that's not true, Bert said. You know, I do respect you, you know, and he's still working in the ground and --

Q. Is Mr. Robb still in the car?

A. Yeah. Mr. Robb's still in the car. And then he said stuff like, about the dogs; said you made a big mistake. And he started getting out of the car and he pulled out this big shotgun, and he was holding it down at his waist and he was pointing it at him.

Q. Pointing it at who?

A. It was just kind of down there. He was standing out overlooking the field and he says some stuff about making a big mistake and he just kept kind of say- ing the same stuff over. Bert and Lina were like, Bill, put the gun away. He {DeLeeuw} kind of stood up now because he {Robb} pulled out this gun. He kept saying, Bill, put the gun away. Put the gun away, Bill.

* * *

"He was dead already," the small, muscular woman is saying.

"I think he died immediately, within seconds. They spent a long time trying to revive him, you know."

And then, with a kind of perfect empty brightness, as if to cover all the horror she is feeling, Lina Newhouser says, "I said to myself, 'Gee, I've got to hurry and get Bert to the hospital.' So I just stuffed him in and drove away."

She's bouncing her sleepy-eyed yellow-haired baby daughter on her knee. Chloe DeLeeuw's just up from a nap.

A moment ago she had said, "Well, in a sense, I think his parents are surviving in the same way I am, by keeping extremely busy. Just bring it up and watch them, you know, shatter before your eyes."

She has tawny skin and short-cropped black hair. There seems something impish and elfin and ingenue-ish about her -- for all her toughness and pain and savvy, for all the bloodshot in her eyes this afternoon. She's an artist by education and sensibility, though it was always art that sought to intersect at the angle of radical, or at least liberal, politics. She once worked, in Washington and other places, for an activist group known as ACORN: the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

She once opened an exhibit in a laundromat in Hoboken, N.J. It was a series of pieces about clothes on clotheslines.

People tell you now that Lina Newhouser expanded Bert's horizons, made him less inclined to see the world through political eyeglasses. People also tell you she made the last several years of his life among the happiest he'd ever known. Fatherhood must have helped in this too, though the fatherhood was so short-lived.

"I started spending time with him in 1980," she is saying. "We were both coming out of other relationships. His second marriage was starting to break up. He hired me to work at Citizens' Party."

On the wall behind her head in this messy but still somehow elegant Civil War-era split-log farmhouse is a large poster. It says "VOTE CITIZENS' PARTY 1980" and it's inscribed, "For Bert -- who made the obviously impossible not only possible but worth doing." Barry Commoner wrote the words. Bert DeLeeuw managed the Commoner campaign on the road, disastrous as that campaign was, at least at the polling booth. Bert was the keeper of the body, was the one you had to talk to first. For the last weeks of the campaign, when everybody seemed mostly to be going through motions, the campaign manager had gone out and bought a cream-colored linen suit: class. He may have never had any money in his life, but DeLeeuw had style and class. People say he knew wines the way baseball people know box scores. He was the original counterculture man with the gourmet's palate.

Today Lina Newhouser is wearing khaki shorts, with woolen sweat socks rolled down around her ankles. The measure of her anger seems the precise measure of her fragility. This is the second visit to the farm by a reporter in a week's time, and in the first, Lina -- you pronounce it Line-uh -- had been able to speak only around the events of May 2, 1990, not really of them. This visit you get a sense of her odd eggshell toughness just in the way she shakes hands: When it's time to let go, she doesn't. And yet in her need to hang on, there also seems a great strength.

"We bought it on the summer solstice," she is saying. "There was a blue moon that year. We just liked the name. It makes you think of different things. 'Blue Moon . . . ' " She breaks off the tiniest hum.

On the inside of a cabinet on the far wall are some 8x10 photos: of a shag-haired and wire-rimmed youthful-looking man being dragged toward a District of Columbia paddy wagon; of a brown-lung protest, complete with signs and bullhorns; of a clean-cut Jersey kid from the '50s getting a ballplayer's autograph in Yankee Stadium. There's also a picture of a former president with this under it: "Best wishes to Bert DeLeeuw. Jimmy Carter."

All of it must be so long ago -- anything past May 2, 1990, must be so long ago. Today, Lina and the help were out in the fields picking by 7:30. They used baskets and boxes and got lettuce, eggplant, onions, kale, collard greens. They worked straight through till lunch at 2. Some of the harvested produce will be sold Friday at the Huntingdon farmers market (which Bert and Lina helped establish); other of it will be put on a co-op truck and taken down to Washington, 3 1/2 hours distant, and delivered to tony restaurants and to organically minded Georgetowners. The DeLeeuw farm is part of a co-op called the Tuscarora Organic Growers.

"We're having, ironically, a good season," she says. "The weather has been very cooperative. That's one of the sad, sad ironies. We were getting everything in place without any more . . . large capital expenditures."

This is the least reference to a hard ongoing fact: She and her husband always had to scrabble for seed money -- literally for seed money. Everything was on the come. That's how farming is, especially when you're doing it organically and just starting out and have put nearly everything you have into the purchase of the property. Bert and Lina borrowed from banks, from family, from farm credit unions. The question was always: Can we last another two or three or four seasons until we turn the corner?

"We would have turned the corner," she says.

Her head is wrapped in a faded pink kerchief. On the back of her T-shirt is the word "Unbelizable," which has something to do with the Central American country bordering the Caribbean where two people fast in love once spent six months, bronzing their bodies, snorkeling and fishing for snappers and grunts. The Belize interlude was shortly before the flight from urbanity, when Bert DeLeeuw and Lina Newhouser were thinking hard about what the next step would be. Ronald Reagan's America wasn't their America. There didn't seem to be much point anymore to the kind of work they'd been doing, at least no longer any point to doing it in Washington. "Whither the left?" you might describe their mind-set then. Whither Bert and Lina? The answer turned out to be Blue Moon Farm, which wasn't even a name, just a gleam, sitting across from the rolling property of Bill Robb, a onetime letter carrier they would end up knowing well, and being quite neighborly with, for a time.

Again, quoting from that first New Year's letter in the proud, new, dilapidated home: "Here on the farm we've been busy fixing the barn, rebuilding the spring house, canning fruits and vegetables, painting, clearing the pear orchard, weeding the garden, installing a heating system (wood furnace), and tearing down old plaster walls to expose the log walls of our house."

"We weren't dropping out," Lina is saying now. "It's much more complex than that. Bert wasn't burned out. He was definitely shifting gears, that's true. He was definitely tired. He didn't want to do electoral politics anymore. I think he was trying to rethink the whole idea of community. What we wanted in a community. In all his organizing, he was working on the same idea. Empowering people."

If he'd left the old life with any sense of embitterment, she never knew it, she says.

Bert loved taking first-time visitors from the city out into the fields. He'd rhapsodize on his plantings, hell, he'd practically bore people to tears with the minutiae of his new life. It was the same as organizing, he'd tell his friends: impossible hours, endless lists, a need to stay on top of a thousand details. Only here you got tangible results.

Sometimes, when guests from Manhattan or Washington were at the farm and had met the neighbor from across the road, they'd ask Bert after the old guy was gone, "What's his problem, exactly?" And Bert's answer would surprisingly be something like this: "Don't be fooled. He's a lot smarter than you think. He went to college. He'll quote you the Constitution."

Bert enjoyed having Bill Robb over, Lina says. That's what you do with neighbors. Sure, the guy talked a lot. For that matter, Bert talked a lot.

They dug their compost. They recycled their glass. They refused plastic bags at the supermarket. They joined a film series at the local college. A season later, Lina, without her husband knowing it, took small amounts from their market cash box each week, and when November came round, she took the money into town and bought two tickets on Amtrak for a Christmastime tour across the country.

Why weren't we always living this life? two people asked themselves. In almost no time, it seemed, Bert had become a kind of spokesperson for the township. Once, when someone asked Bert, the city boy, how it was he thought he could turn himself into an organic farmer, he replied, "Why, it never really occurred to us we couldn't do this."

"Bert served as a township supervisor here," she is saying. "He was very proud of that. I think it paid a hundred and twenty-five a month."

And then: "He liked being a leader up here. He was accepted here. We were accepted here."

Although they were together on and off for about the last 10 years of Bert's life, and together permanently from the middle of the decade, the two decided to marry only at the end of the '80s. The wedding date was May 28, 1989.

"Partly, I suppose, because we were going to have a baby," she says. "It's hard to put into words. Partly because it was right for this time in our lives. And then, too, right for our place in this community."

It was an outdoor wedding, with a pitched tent and wonderful food. There was an air of community picnic. The groom was open-collared and had his hair neatly brushed and he wore a batik patchwork vest. His bride looked like the prettiest girl in some hilltop Mexican village. One of the guests who made a toast that day -- it rambled on, something to do with the pleasures of taking drink on the occasion of two people getting hitched -- was the neighbor from across the road. Bill Robb came to the party with a suit and a cane. He was very jovial. He danced with several young female guests up from the city. "Oh, are you one of their commie friends?" he joshed to one of his dance partners, trying to waltz.

Blue veins are sawing brightly up Lina Newhouser's neck. She is bobbing her child. Her face is cracking.

And she says: "These dogs never attacked a person. Yes, they could attack other dogs if they came up, or could bark like crazy at people riding horses. Dogs do that. We had dogs in the first place to keep off the deer from eating our vegetables."

And she says: "I mean, why didn't he shoot the dogs if he had to shoot something? Of course. That would have been too rational."

And she says: "We cut Bill Robb a lot of slack over the years. We tried to respect what there was to respect about Bill Robb."

And she says, still bobbing her child, chewing at her lip, nodding tightly, crying now in spite of herself: "Yes. Yes. Pretty angry, I'm pretty damn angry."

The last thing Lina Newhouser says she can remember hearing the neighbor man say before he pulled the trigger was, "Sorry about that, old buddy."

Old buddy. People in this township and in this county tell you that is a pure Robbism . . . Bill Robb had been drinking that day, though how hard isn't precisely known. Before the shooting, according to a state trooper's lengthy reports, Robb said to his wife, Vera, "I guess I'll have to go up there and shoot either Bert or the dogs." When Vera tried to remonstrate with him, she later told authorities, he pointed a revolver at her head.

After the shooting, the state troopers came for him at his place. Vera was out in the yard, hiding behind a tree. The accused man emerged, with small unsteadiness, in his suspenders and baggy pants and slight growth of Wednesday whisker and said, according to arresting officer Wayne Gibson, "I shot him. I killed Bert." Bill Robb would spout many things in the next several hours. Robb's affect seemed all wrong that night, bizarrely out of place -- in the squad car on the way to the arraignment before the district magistrate; in the fingerprinting session; during the alcohol testing period. According to the troopers and the district attorney and even the man appointed public defender in this case, Robb just gibbered on. They couldn't shut him up. It almost seemed as if he loved the attention he was suddenly getting. Far from showing remorse or fear or confusion, Robb appeared wholly satisfied with what his over-and-under had accomplished. That, or not really comprehending of it. At one point, he said to the arresting officer, "I wanted to shoot him with something that would do the job."

* * *

Snapshots Of A Life

Bert Jay DeLeeuw is born on August 16, 1945, in a Hackensack, N.J., hospital. His parents, Bert Sr. and Evelyn -- thrifty, hard-working, churchgoing, Dutch-descended -- derive his middle name from the just-celebrated V-J Day. He is the firstborn in a family of four children, each child with a distinctly -- almost radically -- different personality. For instance, the next to come along in this family is Bill. Bert and Bill are just 17 months apart. Bill DeLeeuw grows up with the strangest knack for being able to rub 50 cents in his palms and make it come out 5 bucks -- while his older brother always has trouble just finding the 50 cents. Bill DeLeeuw becomes a Nixon Republican, a San Diego real estate baron, a sailing partner of Dennis Conner, a mogul estimated to be worth $30-odd million -- conservatively speaking.

These two oldest boys will never be close -- and for a time will seem to despise each other's values -- but they are always fierce tennis and Ping-Pong rivals. (In the early evening hours of May 2, Bill DeLeeuw is the one who must break the news to his aging parents. The parents are in Las Vegas, making their way back across the country after a winter in California. The second son flies to Nevada, finds his folks in the lobby of Circus Circus. "Let's go upstairs, I have something to tell you," he says.)

The head of this nuclear Jersey family of six, Bert DeLeeuw Sr., is a small, practical, modest, affable and self-taught American businessman. Later in life he will be known as "Mr. Fixit" for his willingness to help repair his neighbors' leaky faucets and fouled spark plugs. Bert Sr. is co-owner of a Bergen County machine plant. After the war, he and a few friends buy an old building and fill it with junk parts. Over the next decade they turn a shop into a plant. Rochelle Plastic Mold Co. makes precision steel molds for plastic parts. Bert Sr. works at the plant six days a week, but never on Sunday. Sunday is the Lord's day. This is a Christian Reformed family, and that is sacred.

A reporter brings up the word "community." Evelyn DeLeeuw says, "Yes, and I can tell you where it came from. It came from an organized family that always had their meals together. And, by the way, anybody was welcome in this house."

Starting out in Rochelle Park, a less affluent area of Bergen County, the DeLeeuws move to Wyckoff, more upscale. The DeLeeuws never flaunt what they have; that wouldn't conform to their religious principles. Bert Jr. attends Passaic Christian School, Eastern Christian Junior High, Eastern Christian High. At all of these he is a leader and achiever, especially at the last: captain of the tennis team, member of the student council, runner on the cross-country squad. He seems singularly uninterested in the world of commerce, in fact, seems uninterested in money at all except as you must have it to live. This seems not a rejection of his father so much as an embrace of his paternal grandfather. Peter DeLeeuw, who'd arrived in America from Holland at age 12 and never got higher than a school janitor, was known all over this part of Jersey for his Christian humanitarian work. Peter DeLeeuw, the old impecunious Dutchman, had a nonsensical rhyme: "There was a man, they called him mad/ The more he gave, the more he had."

Summers, the DeLeeuws go to Green Pond, 50 minutes west of exurbia. Green Pond is a long and skinny and crystal-clear spring-fed lake where old wooden Chris-Crafts and Republican money lie at anchor. Originally a Methodist camp, the pond has turned itself into a summer colony for doctors and lawyers and wealthy funeral parlor owners. It's not the richness or exclusivity of, say, Upper Saddle River, but it's private and beautiful and family-oriented.

There are four red clay tennis courts at the Green Pond Yacht Club. During summers, Bert Jr. gets a job as the club's teaching pro. Part of his responsibility is maintaining the courts; he embraces this duty almost religiously. Some days he's out as early as 6 a.m., rolling and sweeping and putting the calcium down. Some nights he's still out at 10, shining headlights on the playing surface to see what he's doing.

In 1963, which of course is the year JFK is assassinated in Dallas, the eldest DeLeeuw son enrolls as a pre-seminarian at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. He is thinking of going into the service of the church, but by his second year he has decided that community organizing, not the ministry, is his real vocation. "That's what I got out of my religious back- ground," he'll tell a reporter profiling him in 1984. " 'The least of those among you.' That was the notion of what Christianity was supposed to be about -- helping other people."

He majors in sociology, marries his high school sweetheart, relocates to Ann Arbor. It's the fall of 1967, and Vietnam is no longer that tidy little one-column firefight most of the early New Frontiersmen figured it for. He enters the University of Michigan's graduate School of Social Work. By now he has adopted his life's uniform: denim shirts and pants, wire-rims, semi-disheveled hair, the occasional wrinkled corduroy coat. His marriage is fraying at the edges, though his parents don't know this.

He gets arrested in a campus protest -- the cause is long forgotten -- and mails the gang in Jersey a picture of it. A pattern is forming. Years hence this pattern will be defined by his second wife as "the agitational response." Which is to say: Bert DeLeeuw enjoyed putting it in their faces, whoever they were, letting them deal with it, whatever it was. Not necessarily to be mean, mind you. But to get their attention.

And yet this wasn't a loud or demonstrative or hubristic or showy person, certainly not in these years.

Evelyn DeLeeuw: "I guess we could never really understand his political thinking. We couldn't understand, for instance, why he wanted to go off and get arrested. That seemed so foreign to us. After he was living in Washington and working for the causes of civil rights and so forth, he told us he couldn't really come up here anymore, that people up here didn't understand him. But, you know, now I think that just about everything he was doing down there in those years was religious."

Bert DeLeeuw Sr.: "He was certainly doing good work and all. But, I don't know, it was as if he was doing the opposite of what we thought he should be doing. I guess we just thought he'd never be able to make a living at it. I guess it made us mad. I guess it made us anxious. I guess we felt that Bert's work was, you know, kind of driving a wedge in his marriage."

In 1968, the eldest son arranges to work as an intern in Washington, D.C. It's the summer of Resurrection City and the Poor People's Campaign, of Grant Park in Chicago. Bert meets a charismatic black man named George Wiley. Wiley, head of the fledgling welfare rights movement in America, is a world-class chemistry professor turned advocate of the lowest sector of poor. He sees economic issues as the key to all civil rights. He has one blinding insight: Bring the "ladies," which is to say the welfare mothers themselves, smack into the middle of the movement. That is, put up front what other black civil rights leaders think of as absolutely the wrong images.

It's not altogether inaccurate to say that the tennis-playing upper-middle-class kid from conservative white Bergen County, who has somehow grafted onto himself his grandfather's conscience, fairly comes to worship the black Washington laureate of mothers on welfare.

"We all wanted to raise hell," Bert will say in that same 1984 profile, looking back on the time when he first found his activist fire. "There was just something about the times, I guess. We wanted to go out and organize! We wanted to feel that we were going to do something about the massive inequality in poor people versus non-poor people in society."

Anyway, he returns to Michigan, completes his master's, comes back to Washington the following summer to begin working full time for George Wiley and the movement. Over the next years, there are many protests. All those hard-to-describe organizing skills are being deftly acquired. There's an extensive protest in Las Vegas that lasts six weeks; Sammy Davis Jr. and Ralph Abernathy and Jane Fonda and other celebrities arrive to help. Bert gets his pic in Life magazine.

Bert DeLeeuw, now George Wiley's most trusted aide, his second in command, a kind of chief of staff to a movement, is becoming known far and wide as the guy with the phone numbers. He can get Gloria Steinem. If you have to get through to Jane Fonda, that's Bert. He can work Washington. He can talk to the Hill, to lawyers, to the ladies. It's all behind the scenes, which is not to say he's not capable of getting out front with the bullhorn.

The first marriage dissolves. Madeleine Adamson, a beautiful student at American University, has entered the picture. Madeleine turns up at the National Welfare Rights Organization offices at 14th and H NW to answer telephones and run a mimeo copier, and, well, love just follows.

In 1972, Bert takes time off from welfare rights work to help with George McGovern's run for the presidency. Ever the idealist and optimist, he writes long impassioned letters to his beloved -- who's sojourning in Europe that fall -- telling her that McGovern is going to get elected. "My batting average is not too good on these political campaigns," DeLeeuw will say years later, "but my conscience is clear."

The marriage of Madeleine and Bert comes shortly after the '72 election. It's held at the AU chapel. The printed-up buttons proclaim: "Legalize Madeleine and Bert." There's a big dinner at the Yenching Palace on Connecticut Avenue. The house on T Street becomes the Robin Hood Hotel. Bert always seems to be talking about "CDBGs": Community Development Block Grants. That's the key, he thinks. He loves going to Childe Harold and the Admiral Benbow and Food for Thought. One night, at one or another of these places, he bulbs with another kind of CDBG: Block T Street off so that the Metrobuses can't come down. Metrobuses are an intrusion on his sense of community. His idea is that everybody on his block will get out and human-barricade the street. It'll be a kind of party. At length, there's a peaceful rerouting of the buses, which is a disappointment in its own way.

Well, you get the picture: other causes, other electoral battles, other jailings, other alienations, other protests -- by the score. Many of these causes fail, at least if you're trying to tabulate results in a won-lost column. A decade swims on. A man still has the capacity to work like he's killing snakes. The charismatic George Wiley has now drowned in a terrible accident on the Chesapeake Bay. Bert and Madeleine, in their grief, throw themselves into a new organization called the Movement for Economic Justice. The MEJ was George Wiley's last dream. Bert tries to carry on Wiley's idea of an umbrella organization that will bring together all the various strains and subshoots of community groups working for the poor across America.

MEJ folds its tent in 1976. It's not so much a lack of funds as a lack of harmony. Political organizing, especially on the left, is a very egotistical business, and much of the ego and infighting seems to arise from one cold fact: You're always dealing with an intangibility of product. And besides, down deep, lefties know they're never going to win. There are too many on the other side. Hence the internal turf wars.

Actually, the rise of ego is one of the things in these later years of the '70s that people seem to be noticing about Bert DeLeeuw. But he is far from an egomaniac. And he still keeps the old dreams intact, more than you can say for some. They haven't made "The Big Chill" in Hollywood yet, but the Big Chill tenor of the times is coming fast on the inside.

Bert had been so certain that Fred Harris of Oklahoma had a real chance at the presidency in '76. People say his defeat slowed him up only momentarily.

The Commoner campaign of '80 comes and goes. Before the infighting gets too unbearable, Bert serves as director of the Citizens' Party. He isn't averse to stopping in at Green Pond with a klatch of Commoner advance types who spill drinks on his parents' rug and run up large cross-country bills on Bert and Evelyn's phone. This angers Bert and Evelyn, but characteristically they never say enough's enough. He is their son, maybe they don't really understand him, but he will always be welcome.

After the Commoner campaign, exhausted, the eldest son turns to self-employed carpentry. He's still living at the Robin Hood Hotel, but he and Madeleine have drawn apart. It turns out that an apprentice carpenter has amazing hand skills -- anybody who ever played across a tennis net from him might have told you this. But now Bert puts in kitchens with wondrous dexterity, builds beautiful cabinets, does the grunt work of roofing. He has never made more than $12,000 in a single year, and these days his political arguments come while he's waiting for materials at the discount lumber yards. You wouldn't call him unhappy. What you'd probably call him is in between. Waiting for the next step.

"It's all honest work," he'll later say of this period. "The one thing I didn't want to do, and don't ever want to do, is sell my soul for the sake of doing something."

In the early '80s, about to come over the top of 40 years old, Bert Jay DeLeeuw eyes paper napkins with loathing, loves the L.L. Bean catalogue, can still turn a piece of salmon into an eating experience. And perhaps this could be said as well: A committed and perhaps too idealistic son of the torn '60s has spent most of his grown-up life trying to replicate -- possibly without even knowing -- the fundamental decency and bonding of the home he had no other choice but to leave behind . . . Bill Robb was still standing with his gun above the patch alongside the lane as Lina and one of the farmhands tried to get Bert into the pickup. Then the neighbor went over to his car and started up the engine and drove down the lane, not toward his own house but toward the DeLeeuw barns and farmhouse. He made a U-turn. He was on his way back down the lane, still driving slowly, just as Lina pulled out across the field. You could have almost called it comical: the two vehicles meeting at that second. Robb slowed down even more, as if to give a lady the right of way. Lina gunned the pickup on down the lane while Robb went across the pavement to his own place.

* * *

Something people in Huntingdon County and elsewhere are very curious about now is the extent of the dog squabble: How long did it go on? Lina Newhouser says she isn't really sure herself, though she thinks several weeks. For much of that time, she stresses, she was in the house, tending Chloe. She didn't take part in this year's planting season nearly as much as in other years. But in any case, the dog issue was never something she and Bert were taking very seriously, she says. Yes, it's true her husband had put shock collars on several of the dogs to try to keep them on his property. He was aware there was a potential problem. But, really, wasn't all this fuss and feather about the dogs just Bill, his latest kick, blowing hard about something?

Bill Robb tested legally drunk the night he was picked up. But this fact, when it got out, wasn't very surprising to to a lot of people in Walker Township. There is one DWI conviction on Robb's record, though people tell you now -- heck, the district attorney tells you -- it's a little hard to believe there's only the one. What is absolutely flattening to the people of the township is that this garrulous old man, this former rural postman who had been in their midst all their lives, this harmless blowhard whom you'd generally prefer to step across the street from rather than having to stop and listen to, would have ever turned up as a defendant in a criminal homicide case. Nobody pegged Bill Robb for that role.

The district attorney of Huntingdon County, after studying the case, thinks it's pretty much an open and shut instance of the ravages of alcohol. His name is Stewart Kurtz. He's a lifelong Huntingdon boy -- and nobody's fool. He's lived in cities and likes the country better. He's known Bill Robb practically as far back as he can remember. His cousin Butch used to hunt out at Robb's place.

Kurtz believes the case is purely the result of Robb's drinking. "Bill Robb is a drinker, and . . . he killed," Kurtz says. "I don't know if atrophy applies. I do have indications of a personality change in the previous six months leading up to this. He'd been behaving badly; his personality seemed to be shifting to a semi-violent state. He was a character, you know. Everybody knew him. He was a mail carrier. People know mail carriers."

Kurtz doesn't particularly want to try this case; it involves a native son, after all. But he'll try it, that is, if it should actually come to trial, which is still something of an open question. A plea to a lesser charge, say, murder in the third degree, may be worked out between all parties -- which might also, as a side benefit, enable Lina Newhouser to go forward with a wrongful death civil suit against the Robb family. (Robb is reported to be holding a huge homeowner's insurance policy; if he should be found guilty of premeditated first-degree murder, the insurance company would in all probability balk at paying.) Psychiatric evaluations of the defendant are now being conducted by a doctor in Pittsburgh, although Kurtz emphasizes that under Pennsylvania legal codes it would seem next to impossible for Robb to be judged insane. Right now Robb is charged with criminal homicide, an umbrella term in Pennsylvania that covers everything from murder one down to involuntary manslaughter. The trial is currently scheduled for the court term opening January 7.

Stew Kurtz feels that if his jury were being made up of people in Walker Township, he could probably get a conviction inside of 30 minutes. The jury, however, will be drawn from other parts of the county.

From a strictly courtroom standpoint, the DA feels this isn't a tough case at all. "We have these eyewitnesses. Hell, you see him arrive. You see him pull the gun, testify to his statements, you see him pull the trigger." The outcome of the trial may turn on the question of specific intent. Kurtz is a little concerned right now that the public defender in the case might try to mount some kind of self-defense argument.

One of the explanations on the streets of Huntingdon -- "Welcome to Huntingdon, Our Home, Our Town," says the sign when you come in -- is that an old embittered man, a local butt, had gone off his cracker, and that if it hadn't been Bert, it might have been his own wife or son or daughter-in-law, and that indeed maybe Bert DeLeeuw became the victim by proxy. It's as if in the absence of more hard fact, speculation has become the form of solace.

Fred Gutshall, the public defender, is another home-grown boy, down Mount Union way, also nobody's fool, and also a man who'd probably rather have another assignment but isn't shrinking from this one. "I am a little old-fashioned in that I believe a person is innocent until proven guilty," he says. "Everyone has prejudged Mr. Robb. But he has his right to his day in court like anybody else. You talk to Robb, you'll hear a different story. Bert DeLeeuw had these dogs. There was a conflict there."

Asked about all the talking Robb did after the shooting, Gutshall says, "I personally feel he was in shock that night." Asked whether he might use alcohol impairment as a defense, Gutshall replies, "That's certainly possible. But alcohol itself is not a defense, never has been. You can't say, 'My client was drunk.' That's just not a defense in Pennsylvania."

There are 136 churches in Huntingdon County, and homicide isn't a regular subject of the Sunday homily. And yet this oddity: Four homicide cases, Robb's being the most celebrated, are now awaiting disposition in the county. You'd have to go back to 1830 to beat that record, the locals say . . . As soon as Robb got out of his car, Sally White, the other young farmhand who'd come to Blue Moon for the '90 growing and harvest season, began walking away. Sally got behind a tree. The dogs surrounded her, wagging their tails. Going down, Bert fell on his side. His hands went up to his chest. He turned over. He seemed to be digging with his feet in a kind of half-circle. "Oh oh oh," he cried, little toots of breath blowing out of him.

Then, nothing.

* * *

Three Voices For A Victim

Wretha Hanson, proprietor of the Franz Bader Gallery, former wife of George Wiley, someone who knew Bert DeLeeuw almost from the first day he arrived in Washington in the summer of 1968: "He was unusual for the movement, really. Activists tend to be opinionated. Assertive, if not outright aggressive. They love to argue, they have high energy. Bert had all the commitment of the classic activist but not the classic temperament. I think of him essentially in those early years as quiet. That's the word that most sticks. He was capable of the kind of consuming attention the movement required . . . Whatever expressions of ego and assertiveness you get in the later Bert DeLeeuw, I still say -- compared to what? I do think that as these losses mounted, then the personal needs increased. You see, as long as things in the movement were going reasonably well and you could take some measure of satisfaction in what you were doing -- certainly not a payoff in terms of money or influence -- you didn't need the 'I.' But as the movement fails, as there doesn't really seem a place for you here anymore, the needs for personal assertiveness seem to grow larger. At least this is what makes sense to me. And it may not be that at all. I'm just making this up, really. I never saw Bert behave in ways I couldn't understand. And I miss him terribly."

Randall DeLeeuw, Manhattan graphic artist, third of the four DeLeeuw children, the sibling closest in spirit and companionship to the eldest child: "Actually, I was more counterculture than he was. I came along four years later. With us, it was lifestyle, not political stance. With Bert's generation, it was counterculture with the strong political orientation . . . I remember there was this loft in New York. It belonged to a woman friend of Bert's. He was between marriages, I guess. We all used to stay there, and in this one period he'd been staying there for a couple weeks or longer, and anyway he came out to Green Pond, and, well, this loft was absolutely crawling with cockroaches, and here's my mother, Evelyn, just aghast that he'd brought home all these damn roaches . . . I think it's true Bert sometimes lost his peripheral vision. Maybe he could be a little self-righteous at times. I think sometimes his idealism just got in the way of -- what? Life. But then, after the argument was over, there'd be Ping-Pong down in the basement, the breaking out of the beers. That was one of the best things about him. He could get over it."

Jim Crawford, organic guru of a group of Washingtonians who've gone to Pennsylvania to work the earth. Crawford's been farming without pesticides since the early '70s. He only knew the later Bert, the more aggressive Bert: "If he grew lettuce one time, then he was the definitive lettuce grower. That was definitely one of his prime traits. Acting and being an expert on whatever he was involved in. Really, he was an expert. He could pull it off. Yeah, you could resent his confidence at times. Yeah, you could sometimes think he was an egomaniac. But, I don't know, it was . . . forgivable. You just liked the guy. Despite the ego, he was always willing to change his opinion. Making a consensus, that was Bert. It's hard to explain somebody like that. Because he had this big ego and was very opinionated, but, I don't know, he had a way of not confronting you at the same time. So, okay, here's this young guy with so much talent who comes into this abandoned old place that had never been anything, and he starts to improve it. And this other guy has to watch all this success, watch him get elected to the township, people loving him and praising him. This guy across the road is filled with resentment against everyone. And here your neighbor's just gotten married and has this beautiful child and here are all these beautiful crops coming in. And he just can't stand it. You know, I think the dog thing just focused Robb." At the end of last May, right after the preliminary hearing, a letter was received at the offices of the Altoona Mirror, the region's largest newspaper. It was an odd letter, and you would have sworn it was written by an illiterate person. There were half-sentences and unfinished thoughts. The letter was sent to a reporter who'd been making inquiries into the story.

"As you may have heard, I killed a man accidental as he ran into where I was shooting to scare hell out of him," the letter writer said. "This is unbelievable I could walk or Vera on the back fields and woods, which regularly did, till this pack became killers . . ." The letter went on for a while in this vein, and included talk about a person "who flies the red flag in May."

It was signed George W. Robb.

* * *

He has thin dark wet hair combed straight back. He has thick greasy spectacles. He has pale hands, with slender and almost ladylike fingers that you might guess once held bundles of letters, but certainly not post-hole diggers. He has on white tennies, no socks, loose-fitting trousers, a blue prison shirt ripped open at one shoulder. He's wearing a hear- ing aid.

A while ago, when the guard frisked him, this bulky and sickly seeming old man, who has a shaving cut on his cheek, who has a shuffle to his walk, turned and obediently spread his hands against the wall while the guard began going up and down his pant legs.

On the way into the interview, Fred Schnarrs, the warden at the Huntingdon County Jail, had mentioned how much the prisoner loves to talk. "Half the time it's way above my head," the warden had said. "Law, politics, Constitution, whatever. Scholarly." But oddest thing, when things are put in writing, it's almost as if a third-grader were at work.

Bill Robb is seated at a table, hands folded. He's been using words like "disallow" and "knowingly." In the beginning he'd seemed quite neighborly, polite, evenhanded, fair-minded. It's true that it had been pretty much of a monologue at the beginning, with the prisoner seeming to be covering the entire history of game laws and dog control in the state of Pennsylvania.

A reporter had scribbled, choosing not to interrupt.

"We got along," Robb had said at the start. "We did everything possible for them. We loaned him a car. He used our deep-freeze for three years. He'd go to the shore in Jersey and catch a lot of blues -- I don't care for them. I think somebody gave him a piece of venison once, and he put it our deep-freeze. That sort of thing."

Later: "He broke all the dog laws and all the game laws in the state of Pennsylvania. I talked to numerous game wardens. {Bert} said, 'I don't give a damn if they run all over the valley.' Being a man of civil rights as he was, he violated everybody else's civil rights. They had to shout at them anytime anybody pulled up. I said, 'Bert, these dogs are getting out of control.' "

Increasingly now, a mood is turning. There is a hard set to a man's jaw, some- thing alarming in his eyes. All the talk is now about Bert DeLeeuw's "violent anger."

DeLeeuw's dogs once attacked him, the prisoner says. Nobody knows this. They went after the quail he was trying to raise.

Bert's reply? "So what, Bill?"

A reporter, trying to edge it toward May 2, asks him if he said before the gun went off, "I'm really sorry I have to make Chloe fatherless."

He removes his glasses, leans across the table, studies the transcript of the preliminary hearing.

"That's an entirely false statement." The paper in his hand is trembling.

A reporter informs him that Lina says she heard him say, "Sorry about that, old buddy."

"Oh, my God, no. No no no. If you wouldn't shoot a man's dogs, why would you shoot the man?"

Then: "I fired to the side of the man to scare him because he was attacking me. That's all I did. He ran into the shot."

Robb now says that Bert had a weapon that day.

A reporter asks him what weapon.

"Some kind of digging weapon."

A reporter asks him what happened to this weapon.

Robb says, "Where is it? Where do you think it is? They got rid of it."

A reporter asks about the night of the arrest, all the things that were reportedly said at the state police barracks. What about "I shot Bert"?

The interview is over. A trembling man is trying to get to his feet. The table is pushed back. The answer to the last question is essentially this, though the reporter doesn't get it verbatim: "They're lying. Any cop lies. You know that."

Shuffling off, face deeply crimson, George William Robb, late of the Hartslog Valley Road, seems no more, no less, than some old, tired, bent, sockless man consumed by his rage and with nowhere to dump it . . .

* * *

Bert DeLeeuw's funeral service was held on a Sunday afternoon in May. The weather was tumultuous. Blue Moon Farm had almost never looked so groomed. The family dogs -- Emma and Sailor and the others -- lay quiet, dozing on top of one another, until the service started. Then, oddly, they began barking.

Bert's brother Randy read a moving eulogy. There were psalters and meditations and prayers and hymns. A picture was handed out of the deceased in his straw hat and plaid shirt on his blistered Farmall. Under the photo of the bespectacled man on the tractor, who had seemed to so alter his life from the old days on Dupont Circle when he'd work half the night and then gobble pizzas at the Trio restaurant, was a poem by Wendell Berry titled "The Wish to Be Generous." The last line speaks of "a patient willing descent into the grass."

It was many weeks after that funeral service, after the pesticide-free squash and peppers and kale and fennel were coming up just fine at Blue Moon, that Lina Newhouser could force herself to turn out any of the lights before going to bed. And every time she drove the half-mile down the bowered lane toward the macadam, Lina had to pass the spot where it happened. And every time she pulled out onto the main road, Lina had to notice, at least peripherally, the handsome red brick colonial house of Bill Robb sitting right across the way.

One night in late summer, Bob Weinswig, the young farmhand from Wisconsin who'll be a key witness in the case should there be a trial, woke up cold from his sleep and said to his girlfriend, Sally, something close to these words:

"He did it on purpose, Sal. Bert did it on purpose, don't you see? He knew in those last seconds. He turned around on purpose. He started to turn around so he wouldn't have to see Bill shoot him. And so there'd be no way Bill could ever say it was an accident."

In the first weeks and months following the shooting, family and friends were at the farm around the clock. That has tapered off; people finally have to take care of their own lives. Locally, however, the response to what happened on this property on May 2 is still amazing. A dentist has been coming out evenings to help. He just shows up and works for several hours and sometimes doesn't even run into Lina. People from all over the valley have come out to volunteer their time -- to pick, to mow, to paint, to mind Chloe. In the first hours after the shooting, people were already coming down the lane with groceries, covered dishes, blankets. In some cases they drove in, put the goods on the table, left without saying a word.

This past August an auction was held at the local fire hall. Close to $12,000 was netted. People brought their castoff weed eaters, ice buckets, their new 8x12 aluminum storage buildings. "People just wanted to do something," Lina says. "I think the community felt devastated. Something like this hadn't happened before."

One night toward the end of summer a solicitor from the valley drove out and said to Lina, "We're all responsible." He didn't elaborate.

And why did the shooting happen at all? It seems impossible to know.

So let a story end like this:

On September 23 of this year, a perfect sky-blue Indian summer day, about 100 adults and children came together at the Friends meetinghouse on Florida Avenue in Washington to talk not about the bad dying but the decent living of Bert Jay DeLeeuw. Bill Robb's name floated into the room just once, and then only for seconds. The service, which lasted until long shadows fell on pale windows, brought together people who in some instances hadn't been in each other's company since the old days of the movement. To an outsider, it seemed entirely fitting that such a memorial service, originally planned for the main rooms, had to be transferred to the basement: The upstairs part of the meetinghouse, where there is such fine old wood, wasn't available that day. But why not the basement? This was a group that had fought its battles from literal and figurative basements. This was a group that had hardly ever come in first in the race, though what did that matter.

One saw tears, Earth Shoes, babies in backpacks, moldy ties, old protest buttons: Cotton Dust Kills. Adequate Income Now. Freeze Profits Not People.

Bert Sr. and Evelyn of Green Pond sat in a front row. So did Lina and Chloe.

Tim Sampson, who'd thought up the phrase "Robin Hood was right" and who'd come in from California, led the service. He said: "Death in our culture is never a natural event even when it's natural. And when it's unnatural, it accentuates the mystery, the anger, the hurt."

Barry Commoner, down from Brooklyn, spoke next. His hair is completely white. It's possible to hear voices in your mind, he said, and for some reason the only voice he can hear from 1980 is Bert DeLeeuw's. "The reason, for me, I think, is that Bert was an antidote for everything about that campaign that was inhuman. Bert was the one who in the midst of the frenzy was calm. I hear Bert's voice as the theme of that year." A social scientist hardly known for his emotion then bit his lip. Commoner said he is lucky enough to have a constant reminder in his home of DeLeeuw's life. "Bookshelves. And I want you to know they're damn good bookshelves."

Somebody else got up. "Truth is, a lot of the stuff we worked on, about half of it, was crazy. But it was the other half that was near-brilliant that made it worth doing."

Somebody told a story about the tent stakes Bert DeLeeuw once set out for an encampment "behind the Reagan ranch."

It was as if, through its self-conscious laughing and outright crying, a people was seeking clues to the meaning of its own life.

"I've spent the summer missing him," somebody said.

"What I like to think about his farming is that it gave him yet another chance to shake the status quo," somebody said.

At the end there was a tune with rollicky gospel in it. This is the refrain: "Soon and very soon/ We are going to change this world."

Paul Hendrickson, a writer for The Post's Style section, last wrote for the Magazine about trout fishing.


© 2021 Washington Post

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Rights Groups Call Biden Order for Spying, Data Sharing Deal With EU 'Insufficient'

"The White House has failed to grapple meaningfully with the privacy questions at the heart of this issue," said one critic. "Congress must act where the administration has not."

Jessica Corbett ·

UK Accused of Giving 'Two Fingers Up' to Climate With New Oil and Gas Licenses

"By encouraging greedy fossil fuel companies to keep looking for more fossil fuels, the U.K. government is denying the reality of the climate emergency," said one campaigner.

Julia Conley ·

Naomi Klein Spotlights Perils of UN Climate Summit Hosted by Despotic Egyptian Regime

"Unless political freedoms are defended, there will be no meaningful climate action. Not in Egypt, nor anywhere else. These issues are intertwined, as are our fates."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Dangerous Moment': Record Deforestation in Amazon Shows Stakes of Brazil Election

The runoff between Bolsonaro and Lula, warned one activist, is "not just about the future of Brazil, the result will have an impact on all of humanity."

Jessica Corbett ·

Progressives Warn Fed-Induced Recession Will 'Throw Millions of Americans Out of Work'

"It takes a while for higher interest rates to have a big impact," one expert stressed, "and there's a huge concern the Fed has overshot and secured a recession in coming months."

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo