Mark Bistline passed away peacefully at home in Middletown, RI on the morning of November 13, 2020. His wife Susan Andrade Bistline, children Bennett (31), James (13) and Daisy (12), his dogs Maggie and Felix, several cousins, the extended Andrade family, and the groups and institutions who enjoyed his devotion and creative talents, all stand as a testament to his mind and heart, and to a life extraordinarily well-lived. He was a gifted visual artist, an accomplished guitarist and mandolin player, an unhurried but intriguing story-teller, a classic car enthusiast, a teacher, a chair, a boss, a father, a husband, a singular friend and spirit. Accordingly, this obituary will offer a variety of voices and riffs, a collaborative reflection of his richly textured life.
Born on September 11, 1957, Mark was adopted as an infant by James and Lillian Bistline and grew up in Alexandria, Virginia with his parents, his brothers Jimmy and Scotty, and his beloved Aunt Louise, all of whom have predeceased him. Mark attended Mercersburg Academy and earned his BA with High Honors in Studio Art from Kenyon College, where he was a proud member of the Kokosingers a capella group. His individuality was obvious, as friends from these days recount both “the biggest Afro I had ever seen on a white guy” and “the nicest handwriting I had ever seen, even now,” which was calligraphy he had learned from his mother. Already a passionate musician and visual artist, “he was the troubadour’s troubadour” with a “totally unique take on things and an utterly singular artistic vision…To have known Mark in these days was to have known magic.”
After Kenyon, Mark accepted teaching stints at TASIS England and Wilbraham and Monson Academy, and eventually, St. George’s School, where he spent nine years as chair of the Art Department and the JV baseball coach. Baseball was another deep love of Mark’s. In England he coached the TASIS varsity team and played for the Cobham Yankees, which won the British National Championship, distinguishing himself as “a speedy second baseman, always a threat to run.” Thereafter, Mark followed the Red Sox with great passion and caught a major league game in whatever city he might have business.
In 1995, Mark teamed up with a St. George’s art department colleague to launch a graphic design start-up called Daedalus Design, which became Schoolyard, Inc., the first company to develop websites exclusively for independent schools. Mark built Schoolyard into a 20 year enterprise, serving over 300 independent schools in the United States, and over 30 American schools abroad. Clearly, Schoolyard was well-served by Mark’s ability “to talk a dog off a meat truck.” Schoolyard was also a family, led by Mark’s embracing his young employees’ diverse skills and gameness for an office culture that was hard working, fun loving, and full of rescue dogs and questionable humor. “Like Mark, Schoolyard was forever a work in progress—lovably imperfect, optimistic, principled, and joyful.” Mark sold Schoolyard in 2017 and returned to teaching in 2018, serving as chair of the art and music departments at Cape Cod Academy until he was diagnosed with cancer in Autumn 2019.
A number of Aquidneck Island charitable organizations benefitted from Mark’s big heart and energies, including the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Newport County where he served as executive director. Perhaps most notable, and what he always considered the high water mark of his educational life, was his work as board member and eventually chair of The Pennfield School. During his tenure, he led the charge to purchase Little Slocum Farm and build the school’s permanent home, a task complex both in detail and scope, and deeply satisfying for Mark.
In the end, it came down to music, friends, and family for Mark. From guitar strumming nights at summer camp along the Shenandoah River in Virginia, to the Kokes a capella group at Kenyon, the Educaterz, a prep school teacher rock band he co-founded in 1993, and, finally, the Irish session band with a standing Sunday gig at Aidan’s pub in Bristol that he joined in 2017 after teaching himself to play the mandolin, music was a defining feature of Mark’s life. “Magnetic and charismatic onstage, Mark had a guitar style influenced by both blues and bluegrass, and he had a talent for taking a band to the next level…Even as his voice and fingers were failing him, he wanted to make more music. Really, I think music is all he ever wanted to do other than love his lady and hug his kids.”
Love his lady and hug his kids, he did. Mark re-met Susan Andrade in 2005, having known her 16 years earlier when she was a student at St. George’s, and they fell in love. “To see Mark’s utter adoration of Susan, and the joy with which they looked to the future together, was to see romance perfectly rendered.” They were married at the New York Yacht Club in Newport on a dark, clear January 1 winter’s night, 2007. Two children, James and Daisy were born in the next two years, joining Bennett, Mark’s daughter from a previous marriage to Landa Patterson, to make a crew of “incredibly talented, kind, smart, and wholly decent children,” with whom Mark and Susan were smitten, and who each share their parents’ wonderful individualism. Together, Susan and Mark overhauled a remarkable series of houses in Newport, Bristol, Portsmouth, and Middletown, each filled with beautiful objects and art, yet welcoming to friends, music, and pets. “Mark lived and loved with more passion than perhaps anyone I’ve ever known. His children, Bennett, James, and Daisy were the source of boundless pride and unbridled joy, and his love for Susan was stronger than any love I have every witnessed.”
Mark will be deeply missed by many. He was Beezo, Manny, Boss, Dad, Daddy, and Mark. “I know that many of us feel the world is a little less beautiful, a little colder, and a little less musical now that Mark Bistline is not in it anymore.”
When the time is right and we can gather with live music in a way that Mark would enjoy, we will celebrate his amazing life.
In lieu of flowers, those who wish to make a contribution in Mark’s honor are invited to do so at The Pennfield School, www.pennfield.org/mark-bistline