He never drank, smoked or drove a car. 

Afflicted by seizures from a young age, Robert Harrison suffered from lifelong mental illnesses that precluded him from working and made him wholly dependent on others. 

Still, Robert enjoyed going for walks and picking up cans, socializing with friends, and playing Bingo at local church halls. He forged deep bonds with his parents and his younger brother, William.

Robert Harrison at CareOne in New Bedford.

“When I lost him, it really hurt me,” William said of big brother Robert, who died June 11, 2020, from COVID-19 complications at St. Luke’s Hospital. Robert was 76.

“He went through a lot,” William said, adding that Robert in the last few years of his life he was in and out of nursing homes, and was admitted to the geriatric psychiatric unit at St. Anne’s Hospital in Fall River. 

“He was running into a lot of issues with his health. Nurses would come to the house to wash him up,” said William, adding that Robert underwent several surgeries and was already in the grips of dementia when he was diagnosed with COVID-19 last May.

“I didn’t see him for the last three-and-a-half months of his life,” said William, who traveled to Arizona in early March of 2020. When he returned a few weeks later, the pandemic had shut everything down, including CareOne, the New Bedford nursing home where Robert was staying.

“I never got a chance to talk to him,” William said, adding that the last time he would see his brother was as he lay dying in the hospital. 

“That hurt,” William said. “I was always there for him.”

Collage of New Bedford people who died in COVID pandemic featured in memorial.

We remember you.

As the city emerges from the long siege of COVID-19, we pause to take stock of what – and whom – we’ve lost. Please help build this community memorial by adding a tribute to your loved one.

Robert Harrison was the middle child of five children born to the late Harry and Rose Andrea Harrison. The couple raised their family in New Bedford, on North Street near the old main fire station before moving into a home near the Weld Square neighborhood.

William said Robert left school shortly after the fifth grade. For most of his life, Robert was a homebody, preferring to spend time with his mother. Over time, they learned to depend on each other for support.

“His life was my mother,” William said. “They had a close bond. She did her best to give him a good life and a good home.”

When their mother died, William became his brother’s chief caretaker for more than 20 years, taking him to medical appointments, helping him with grocery shopping, or just coming over Robert’s North End tenement apartment and cooking up a pot of kale soup.

“I would take him here, there … I took him wherever he wanted to go,” said William, who in addition to losing both his parents and Robert has also in recent years mourned the death of another brother, Norman, in California. 

“You just keep going,” William said. “There’s nothing else you can do.”

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