Robert Driscoll, TV producer, magazine publisher; at 70

By Bryan Marquard, Globe Staff | December 15, 2005

Procrustes, a villain in Greek mythology, isn't often cited in freedom of speech arguments. But when Robert Driscoll was president of the library board in Westerly, R.I., he swatted away a censorship demand by invoking the creator of the Procrustean bed -- an iron contraption in which travelers were made to fit, either by being stretched or having their feet lopped off.

Mr. Driscoll, who grew up in West Roxbury and sampled a variety of pursuits -- from Yale to serving in the Army to performing off-Broadway to producing television soap operas to publishing a magazine -- died of cancer Sunday at his home in the Watch Hill section of Westerly. He was 70.

When a letter arrived a few years ago criticizing the library's ''Tarot Cards for Teens" program and demanding that computer filters be installed to block objectionable websites, Mr. Driscoll responded by noting that the writer's ''freedom of choice [and that of everyone else] lies at the core of the current contretemps."

He wrote: ''I will reserve analysis of your Procrustean theories regarding creeping paganism and pornography at the library until another forum."

The rebuke would have been even more stinging had it been delivered in person.

''He had a rich, rich voice -- one of those voices that no matter what he said, it sounded important," said Kathryn Taylor, executive director of the Memorial and Library Association of Westerly, which this year gave Mr. Driscoll its Gold Leaf Award for his contributions to the library and its adjacent park.

The youngest of seven children, Mr. Driscoll's older siblings chose his name -- Robert received more votes than Peter -- though family members and most close friends always called him Robin, said his brother Edgar Driscoll Jr., of Boston, a former reporter for The Boston Globe.

William Driscoll of Jaffrey, N.H., said his brother took a hiatus after a couple of years at Yale for a reason that may surprise many who later came to admire Mr. Driscoll for his erudition and the endless supply of arcane facts he always had at his fingertips.

''Probably lousy marks," he said.

Joining the Army, Mr. Driscoll acted with other troops in theatrical performances for the soldiers while stationed in France. After a two-year hitch, he returned to Yale, graduating in 1960.

From there it was back to Boston, where he acted at the Charles Playhouse, ''and then, as always, the call of New York came," William Driscoll said, ''and he went down there and performed in some off-Broadway productions." Mr. Driscoll later switched to television, working as a coproducer on soap operas such as ''The Secret Storm" and ''As the World Turns."

William Driscoll, who was ''sixth in line" among the siblings, developed a lifelong friendship with his younger brother.

''We were so close, in fact, that he married my wife's sister," he said. ''They had all girls and my wife and I had all boys. If you fed that into a computer it wouldn't happen; we had double-cousins."

Edgar Driscoll recalled that when Robert Driscoll married Margaret Moore in New York, 17 nieces and nephews were wedding attendants -- all over age 5 could took part.

Nieces, nephews, and grandchildren were a constant presence at Driscoll family gatherings, and William and Robert Driscoll were the standing entertainment. Mr. Robert Driscoll played the piano and joined William in an energetic musical patter that was part singing, part made-up rhymes -- ''a cheap form of vaudeville," said William Driscoll.

In the 1970s, he said, his brother left New York and moved to Rhode Island, where his mother-in-law was ill.

Mr. Driscoll became editor of special publications for the electric boat division of General Dynamics in Groton, Conn., and founded Tidings magazine, a regional publication, with his wife, who died in 1993. He retired from General Dynamics in 1996 and sold Tidings in 1999.

Mr. Driscoll, who later married Elizabeth (Camp) Crawford, also was a well-known collector of Winslow Homer lithographs and 19th-century prints. And he was keeper of the antique tower clock in the old Town Hall, ensuring that the time was correct. At Town Hall, as elsewhere, he was known as ''a gentleman's gentleman," said Donna Giordano, Westerly's town clerk.

Even in retirement, intellectual restlessness kept Mr. Driscoll busy, and he did legal research for a law office in Westerly.

''That was another facet of him," William Driscoll said. ''At times he thought he'd like to be a lawyer, way back when, so he got a job with a law firm."

His wife, Elizabeth, said that even though Mr. Driscoll had no legal training, ''they just kept asking him questions, and he always had the answer. He just had an incredible memory. If he read something once, that was it. It stuck in his brain forever."

In addition to his wife and two brothers, Mr. Driscoll leaves four daughters, Eleanor Crook of Jaffrey, N.H., Anne Driscoll of Chicago, Margaret Stamatis of Ridgefield, Conn., and Catherine of Westerly; a stepson, Douglas Crawford of Westerly; two stepdaughters, Sandison Dion of Pawcatuck, Conn., and Kristin Edwards of New London, Conn.; 10 grandchildren; and two stepgreat-grandchildren.

A service will be held at 12:30 p.m. today in Christ Episcopal Church in Westerly. The burial, in River Bend Cemetery, Westerly, will be private.