‘Director of goodness and beauty’: Students and colleagues mourn the death of Emerson film professor Robert Todd

“Rob was generous with his time, his wealth of knowledge and what seemed to be an endless — and infectious — enthusiasm and curiosity.”

Robert Todd
–Will Canalizo

Friends, students, and colleagues are mourning the sudden death of Emerson College professor Robert Todd.

Todd, 54, was reported missing on Thursday evening, according to a message sent to the Emerson community on Friday night by school president Lee Pelton.

On Saturday, Pelton announced the professor’s passing.

Robert brought extraordinary talents, incredible vision and outstanding dedication to his art, and to his teaching,” he wrote of Todd. “He inspired filmmakers of all ages at Emerson, giving generously of his time and energy to his fellow artists over the years. As a representative of the Emerson community, I would like to express our deepest condolences to Professor Todd’s wife, Tessa Day – an artist, writer, and graduate student at Emerson – and to his family, friends, colleagues, students, staff and others who mourn his loss.”

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Todd’s body was found in Franklin Park sometime on Saturday, MassLive reports, citing a family statement. A request for comment from Boston police was not immediately returned.

Counseling services are being offered on Emerson’s campus to those struggling with the sudden loss, Pelton said.

“Robert’s family, who graciously helped to draft this message during their time of grief and loss, has asked us to let the community know that they will welcome all of his friends, old and new, to a celebration of his life of extraordinary energy, prolific curiosity, warmth, and unending generosity of spirit,” the school’s president wrote. “We will share information about that service with you as soon as it is available.”

Todd, associate chair of Emerson’s department of visual and media arts, had been a faculty member at the college for more than 18 years.

News of Todd’s death prompted a flood of remembrances on social media by members of the local film community.

The Harvard Film Archive described the 54-year-old award-winning filmmaker as “an amazing, sensitive, honest and energetic artist, teacher and friend” who was always generous with his time.

“The life force of so many organizations and institutions in the area throughout the years, Rob was an enormously prolific, multi-talented artist who was experimental at heart but worked in all genres and kinds of film as well as music and visual art,” the archive wrote. “He leaves behind several lifetimes of incredibly beautiful films and even more friends, family, colleagues and communities across the world who are deeply mourning this passing.”

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Writer and director Jim Cummings told Boston.com that Todd, his college advisor while at Emerson, was a “huge encouragement to us filmmakers.”

“He was a gentle and thoughtful experimental filmmaker way before that was cool, he worked hard and taught a lot of us that it’s OK to make weird movies,” he said.

Carson Lund said that not enough people know of Todd’s “prolific body of work.”

“Rob’s class was a galvanizing hybrid of avant-garde film history & experimental Bolex workshop, and I never had a teacher so idiosyncratic,” he wrote. “He’s the reason many of my peers & I still shoot film.”

“You held my hand through the harrowed production and post of my BFA,” wrote Keto Shimizu of Todd. “You were such a source of light, wisdom, and smiles. I am so sorry you are gone.”

A photo posted on Twitter on Sunday showed that on the sign outside Todd’s office, the professor’s title had been changed — to director of goodness and beauty.

Here’s how Todd’s friends, former students, and colleagues are remembering the filmmaker on social media:  

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November 19, 2018 | 4:00 PM