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Robert Shropshire

May 2012

Robert is remembered with deep affection and gratitude by the Mowanjum community and all of us who were there as staff in the Derby Religious House in the early 70’s. His presence in an Aboriginal community in the remote North West Kimberley region of Australia caused far more attention than he was comfortable with. The press were on to his presence – at first positive when a great photo appeared on the front page of “The Northern Times” of him with the senior elder Micky Bunguni in front of a new sign “Mowanjum Community – Mission to the World” together with the wedgeblade. But later the same paper led a scare campaign with banner headlines “Black Power comes to Derby!” Robert’s response was to laugh at the notion that he of all people should be considered a dangerous threat – after all “I am only a cool school teacher”. Some of our fond memories of Robert are:

* such an empowering and imaginative teacher especially of teenagers

* introducing Aboriginal people to music they had never heard before

*  his delight in embellishing the story of the great sheep drive (5,000 of them) including the fact that they all got lost at the first attempt!

* his coolness towards our tight structures

* both his eruptive anger at being treated “differently” and his gratitude when people were straight with him

* being followed around by giggling school girls

* the love of kids who called out “Shropshire, come here”

* his infectious laughter especially at the incongruence of situations we were faced with

* his zany sense of humour and apt comments when the going was tough

* introducing “right on” into the Indigenous vocabulary

* his liberating presence as a proud black man

* singing along with the elder Wattie Ngerdu’s favourite song “Free men live in responsibility”  (Wattie could sing but Robert???)


We could go on. People of Mowanjum will mourn his passing  – and are sure to retell great Robert Shropshire stories.We also cherish our opportunity to have caught up with him in the nineties in Chicago and have his distinctive chuckle again etched into our memories – and yes, the Great Sheep Drive was told once again! We resonate with Evelyn Philbrook where she says “I somehow feel he is some where laughing with the Mystery expecting great things from us all to carry out God’s unfinished work.” Goodbye to a true spirit colleague.

~~  Jonathan and Janeen Barker



For me, Robert was also a prophet.I remember an occasion when we were both teaching in the Academy and Robert was delivering the lecture in the Nation and World Course.   His eyes were far away, as he spoke of the ‘tan man’ and he said ‘”That will be the next huge upsurge of people power and chaos” –  or words such as these.   It  really imprinted on me how the world/ nation-states/  would be reconfigured, as balances were changed……. and I thought of Robert years later, when the Middle East imploded.


In his book ‘ Reading The Bible Again For The First Time’ Marcus Borg speaks of ‘ Prophetic Energising’. For me, Robert was a real example of what Borg means, in his Chapter 6. Robert, we salute you… from Australia.

~~  Isobel Bishop.



Robert and I taught together at the Black Academy several times and through him, I got to know about the feelings and hopes of the black community in the 70s. We worked together at Bombay house as well. A man with a great sense of humour and passion.

~~  Dharmalingam



Wanda and I will never forget Robert.  When he arrived at Mowanjum, he was the star of the show, everyone thought he was the greatest.  Years later Robert and I had a great time playing music at the summer programs.

~~  George Holcombe









Ken and I have just returned from Robert’s funeral service held at Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church on the South Side.  The service was well done with the large church choir singing a resounding rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In”. Robert was buried in a blue suit. It was wonderful to see and talk to Conna, Evelyn and her daughter Alexis, Greg and his wife Autumn, Robert’s Mother Evelyn, brother Kenneth, nephew Eric Shropshire and niece Maija Evans. Eric read many of the remembrances you all have written on this listserve during the service and they gave a wonderful perspective on Robert’s life and contributions. Anne Townley was there. Rick and Dixie Deines also attended from Milwaukee. It reminded me of how many of us came into the Institutes through those strong Galaxy pastors.  Robert was an active member of their Lutheran Church in Woodlawn and played a key role in the development of the “Woodlawn School of Human Dignity” in the 60s. There were recollections of his role as a master teacher and a spirit man in Chicago and around the world with the Ecumenical Institute and the ICA. I was thankful to have been able to attend the service.

~~  Mary Laura Jones



Robert, Carlos and I enjoyed many long and wrenching conversations in appropriating being black in America and in the Order. I have fond memories of teaching the Urban Academy with him. He was a true treasure, and I pray that his soul is at peace.
~~  Joyce Sloan



Robert Shropshire taught my academy and made me laugh and he made me think about racism, reverse racism, what blocks each of us from being our potential is just a story, which we can change, simple as that. (Then he got angry about getting married and did a collegium which just blew everyone away.)

He was also a facilitator for the Gibson Human Development Project Consult in Gibson, North Carolina. I remember when he said he had never seen a Southern town like Gibson before. He kept singing this song about the company store under his breath. Those of us who were there knew what he meant. And then he turned around and said that as a Black African American man his role was about healing –  accountability, absolution and healing. Then he went and did the Contradiction workshop. It was painful.

He held everyone accountable, white, black, American Indians, everyone.Then he said it was time for forgiveness. The room was silent. Everyone looked at the white Mayor, who ran the company store. Then it was like a revival. Amen, Amen, Amens were said all around, started first by the Black reverends, and the black school principal, then everyone….  (Or at least that is how I remember it.)

Later,  he said, maybe he would go to hell for this, but that is what he needed to do. Amen to men of courage like Robert Shropshire. Sing the Gibson Town Song under your breath and then Amazing Grace. A very courageous man indeed.
~~  Evelyn Kurihara Philbrook.



Shrop was a delightful colleague who could see through to the profound spirit core of issues in our community and the world and was willing to address them insightfully and incisively (what we used to call “delivering the Word.”)  All of your comments have rekindled his image for me.  I had the opportunity to bring him onto my team at McDonald’s home office, where he served as Manager of Corporate Contributions back in the early 80s. I particularly remember him as the way-cool percussionist in the beloved OE music combo called “The Blues Brothers.”  Indeed, we were enriched by the extravagant talents he brought to the adventure of life in mission.

~~  Marilyn Crocker



I have strong memories of Conna and Robert at the Academy in the autumn of 1974. Musicians they were. I remember Robert as this spirit giant. A great smile on his face. Leading singing on Sunday evenings as if we were in a black church. Stirring stuff… I celebrate this great life and  say Amen.

~~  Paul Schrijnen



I will always remember Robert as a great Teacher, a Truth Teller, a Lover of what has Heart and Meaning. Praise the gift of his life and spirit!

~~  Robert True



Shrop was my section leader for RS1 in Academy in 1976.  I’ll never forget his style of addressing our illusions with a “Ho, Ho, Ho isn’t that great?” He always said he wished he had the busiiness education that I had. I’ve always wished I could have told him that his facilitation and people skills were so much more important than what i was doing. I’ll never forget him as a friend and I agree as to his great sense of humor and leadership skills.
~~  David Rebstock



As I think back about Shrop, I remember some of his stories – do you remember the story about the puppy their family had?  They fed him mashed potatoes, imagine?  He was the dean of an HDTS that we had in Kawangware/Kamweleni – his relationship to the village and urban  participants was deep and wonderful!  How many of you recall the spin he gave at his father’s funeral? He is missed.

~~  Nancy Lanphear