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Robert K. Massie, Narrator of Russian History, Is Dead at 90


Robert Kinloch Massie III was born in Versailles, Ky., on Jan. 5, 1929. His father, Robert Jr., was an educator and his mother, Molly (Kimball) Massie, was a progressive activist. He grew up in Versailles and in Nashville.

After graduating from high school in Nashville, he earned a bachelor’s degree in American studies at Yale and another degree in the field at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar before serving in the Navy. In addition to working at The Saturday Evening Post, he had stints as a journalist at Collier’s and Newsweek. He taught briefly at Princeton and Tulane and was president of the Authors Guild.

His marriage to Suzanne Rohrbach in 1954 ended in divorce in 1990. Suzanne Massie’s books include “Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia” (1980), which President Ronald Reagan read. She met a number of times with Reagan, and she was widely credited with telling him of the Russian proverb “doveryai, no proveryai” — “trust, but verify” — which he repeated in a meeting on arms control with the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Mr. Massie married Ms. Karl in 1992. In addition to her and his son Bob, he is survived by two daughters, Susanna Thomas and Elizabeth Massie, from his first marriage; a son, Christopher, and two daughters, Sophia and Nora Massie, from his second; seven grandchildren; and a great-grandson. His brother, Walter Massie, who went by Kim, died last year, also on Dec. 2.

Mr. Massie’s love of books — particularly the ones that fueled his own formidable literary output — was downright visceral. In an essay for The New York Times Book Review in 2012, he told of moving his many books on Catherine from his office to a nearby spot so he could visit them as “friends.” He said he showed the same respect to books in libraries.

“I like to make sure they are alive and well,” he wrote. “If they have collected dust, I take out the small towel I carry in my briefcase and wipe them off.”

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.


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