Robert L. Pisor, journalist, historian and sourdough bread maker, died of kidney cancer on July 7, 2017 at his farm in Leelanau County. He was born in Bellefontaine, Ohio, on Dec. 7, 1939, the first son of a U.S. Army artillery officer and an elementary school teacher.
He graduated from Lincoln High School in Ferndale in 1957 and majored in history at the College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio. There he met Ellen Waters, a 5-foot-2-inch redhead from New Jersey, who proved an unflinching partner in camping Egypt's western desert, tending a two-year-old in wartime Saigon and carrying her share in 10-day hikes into the woods of Isle Royale and the mountains of the Weminuche wilderness in Colorado. She was a boon companion, loving wife and best friend for 60 years. Her support and positive attitude helped shape his life.
He spent two years in New York City, writing for radio and TV at NBC and winning a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
In 1963, he joined the Detroit News, then the largest afternoon daily in the U.S. He covered Jerry Cavanagh in Detroit's City Hall, Govs. George Romney and Bill Milliken in Lansing, Lyndon Johnson in Washington, D.C. and every presidential campaign and major senate and governor's race in the country from 1964 to 1974. He also served as the Detroit News' war correspondent in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968.
He served three years as press secretary to Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, became editor of Monthly Detroit Magazine and moved to Detroit's WDIV-TV to offer newspaper criticism and political coverage for 11 years. His book on the Vietnam War, The End of the Line, won the Society of Midland Authors' prize for non-fiction.
In 1995, he moved a 50-year-old, three ton, German-built deck oven into a former women's clothing store on the south side of Leland and established Stone House Bread as the area's first artisanal sourdough bread. It would be difficult, he once said, to thank the thousands of friends and strangers who stepped up for a loaf of hard-crusted North Country bread.
After devoting 11 years to bread-making, he sold Stone House Bread and embraced retirement: spending time with his sons, David and Karl, their wives, Hilary and Manami, and his six grandchildren in Chicago and Tokyo; traveling the world "off the beaten path"; hiking and hunting with his two English setters; reading every book the Leland Library had to offer and cultivating his prize-winning tomatoes in his vegetable garden.
What could better describe his relationship with his grandchildren than this letter from 13-year-old Gigi Pisor?
Dear Papa: You have always been an extraordinary grandfather, better than I could ever ask for. I will never forget sitting at the dinner table listening to your loud, booming voice telling us of your amazing stories and adventures. I will never forget watching you point out all the wonderful birds, trees, mushrooms and plants as I followed you on our every day hikes. I will never forget your big, warm smile hidden under your busy, grey beard. I love you, so, so much.
We will celebrate the life of Bob Pisor with a party at the Pisor farm on Aug. 13 at 4 p.m.
Memorial donations may be mailed to The Leelanau Conservancy, PO Box 1002, Leland, MI 49654.
Published on July 12, 2017