The Hermit Society

Michael Edwards of Melbourne, Florida, is the current president of the Fort Fisher Hermit Society that formed around the 100th birthday celebration, in collaboration with the hermit's son and daughter-in-law Ed and Vergie Harrill.

"We started the society to promote Robert's story and to bring together people who had an interest in his life and death," Edwards said. "And hopefully all our interest and efforts would not only spread his message but also bring the culprits responsible for his death to trial."

The crime investigation-or the lack of an investigation, as the case may be-speaks directly to the teachings of the hermit. He railed against "lack of common sense in government, in personal responsibility, in law enforcement, anywhere you look," Edwards said. "Not only the fact that it just doesn't exist, but that nobody is ever held accountable."

Many have held up the hermit's lifestyle as a questionable model of pure common sense, but Edwards says it needs to be seen in context. "When you look at all the responsibilities that people have, it always amazes me. I have friends who still pay a hundred plus for cable and yet there's nothing on TV. He found a way to live as simplistic as anyone."

Edwards has moved on to become a health educator, so that the teachings of the hermit resonate throughout his professional career.

"I believe that he encouraged me because of his continued belief in himself, his self efficacy if you will, to never give up. That's one of the things that I talk about to people. No matter what your health is, don't ever give up on it because you still have control of it."

Any number of basic elements of the hermit model have long been featured prominently in just about any health-focused regimen: fresh air, physical activity, growing and consuming natural foods. "He had a very positive attitude and getting back to nature itself is a very positive wellness attribute, even though he wasn't the healthiest human being possibly because of his past."

Edwards has followed Harrill's lead to seek the solace of the sea at midlife. He had a "big accident" at age 50 and saw that as a turning point, a pivotal change, a time of starting over in search of a new focus for his life. "I had to move back to the beach because I think the ocean is very spiritual and very uplifting and that's what Robert found."

Following his accident he visited the bunker, sat on top of it, and recalled the scene he'd witnessed many years before, one throng of people after another surging onto the shore like the endless waves of the sea, with the hermit acting as some sort of gravitational force.

"I thought if he could pull it together at age 62, I can do the same thing."

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