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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Robert Meyers, minister and professor, dies at 88

By Chandler Williams and Beccy Tanner
The Wichita Eagle

More often than not, when Robert Meyers was thrown one of life’s difficult questions, he’d answer it with another question.

It was his nature, friends and family say, to not be judgmental but to encourage those around him to find the answers within.

“He was the most remarkable human being,” said Bob Scott, music director at University Congregational Church, which the Rev. Meyers helped found in 1983. “He cared. He listened. He didn’t give advice.”

The Rev. Meyers, an English professor and founding minister of the University Congregational Church, died Jan. 8 in Bellingham, Wash., where he had retired. He was 88.

A memorial service is scheduled in Wichita for 2 p.m. Feb. 4 at the University Congregational Church, 9209 E. 29th St. North.

He was born Aug. 7, 1923, and grew up on a farm near Henrietta, Okla. During World War II, he served as an Army correspondent in England.

“He wrote for Stars and Stripes, but because he was a conscientious objector, he followed a medical unit,” said his wife, Billie. “He could type rapidly and would write up stories about the wounded and send them to hometown newspapers.”

He earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Abilene Christian College in Abilene, Texas; a masters from the University of Oklahoma and a doctorate from Washington University in St. Louis.

The Rev. Meyers moved to Wichita in 1960, ministering at Riverside Church Christ. In 1971, he became the minister at Plymouth Congregational and was there until 1983, when he became the founding minister for the University Congregational Church.

“He was probably the most brilliant man I have ever known,” Scott said. “He could assimilate facts and retained facts.”

While in Wichita, he became friends with both students and faculty at Wichita State University.

“Whenever he went out to eat, wherever it was, he would soon get to know the waiter, the waitress,” Scott said. “He cared about them. He wanted to know about people.”

The Rev. Meyers was a professor of English for more than three decades. He was an English literature and American literature scholar, and wrote two books and more than 100 journal articles.

“He was a gifted speaker, probably the best that I have ever heard because he used to say ‘I take the Bible seriously and not literally,’ ” said Jim Rhatigan, a retired WSU administrator and friend.

In 2008, after Rev. Meyers had retired and moved to Washington, University Congregational Church began hosting a Robert Meyers Lecture Series. Among the first topics were discussions on "Why Does the Historical Jesus Matter?" and "Did Jesus Have a Political Theology?”

The Rev. Meyers is survived by his wife, Billie, of Bellingham, Wash.; three children, Karen (Jim) Wakefield of Bellingham, Wash.; Robin (Shawn) Meyers of Oklahoma City; and Devon (Lilla) Meyers of Malibu, Calif.; and seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Memorials can be made to Outreach at University Congregational Church, 9209 E. 29th St. North, Wichita, KS 67226; or Whatcom Hospice Foundation, 800 E. Chestnut St., No. 1A, Bellingham, WA 98225.

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