Local author, scholar and teacher, died on September 27, 2019 of lung cancer at his home in Brookline, surrounded by his wife Carol and his two sons Andrew and Anthony.
Macbain received a B.A. in Classics from the University of Chicago and was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to do graduate work in ancient history at the University of Pennsylvania where he earned his Ph.D. He loved interacting with students and was a favorite professor of many, but university duties kept him from writing about what he was truly interested in. So he turned to fiction later in life after his academic career at Vanderbilt and Boston Universities. He continued teaching high school Latin at Waltham High where he supervised the building of the Latin Club’s Roman catapult; then taught English in job training programs in Boston (Asian American Civic Association and Oficina Hispana) while doing research and creating fictional characters to populate his books. Macbain’s historical novels were launched at Brookline Booksmith where many enjoyed his lively readings and historical insights.
Roman Games and The Bull Slayer (Poisoned Pen Press) are mysteries set in ancient Rome. The trilogy, Odd Tanglehair’s Saga (Blank Slate Press) is a coming of age story about Odd, a thinking man’s Viking who ventures from his native Iceland through medieval Russia to join the Varangian Guard in Byzantium. Macbain’s son, Anthony, drew the covers and interior illustrations for the series.
Before Macbain’s struggle with cancer consumed his energy, he became interested in Shanghai in the 1920’s which was drawing refugees, fortune hunters and adventurers from all over the world. In his forthcoming action/thriller, Shanghai Blues, an African-American jazz trumpeter gets caught up with opium gangs and Communist cadres in a time of revolution in both music and politics.
In Macbain’s final work, The Scotch Brute, he imagines one of his ancestors, Donald McBane, saving the First Duke of Marlborough--Sir Winston Churchill’s and Princess Diana’s illustrious ancestor--from assassination in 1705. Although his ancestor’s brush with the British aristocracy is pure fiction, many of the characteristics of this unlikely hero are taken from McBane’s 18th century autobiography where his successes as a fencing master, soldier, gambler and scoundrel are well documented. Bruce took a perverse delight in knowing that at least one of his ancestors was on the wild side.
Macbain also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sabah, Malaysia where he and his wife taught English in the heart of Borneo. Always a book lover, he helped establish the first public library branch in this remote area. One of the highlights of his time there was a trip down the Baram River, first by cargo boat, then in a dugout canoe, to stay overnight in a longhouse with human skulls lining the rafters. (This was long before TV travel shows made the experience available to all).
After retiring from teaching, he continued to write while working part-time at the Brookline Public Library where he enjoyed discovering new books and chatting with patrons about the latest acquisitions. His books are available at the library and on Amazon. (See brucemacbain.com)
Although reading and writing were central to his life, Macbain also enjoyed cycling to work and running to keep fit. Jogging around the Brookline Reservoir is where he got his best ideas. Good food and good music were also important to him. He loved old-time country music and the blues as well as his classical favorites Debussy and Ravel. On his last day he enjoyed a home-cooked meal surrounded by his loving family, watched the first episode of Ken Burns’ history of country music, downloaded a Dickens novel to his Kindle, and fell asleep listening to a favorite flute duet.
There will be a memorial service at a future date. Donations in his memory to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute are welcome.
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