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In memory of Robert C. Kimball (1928-2017)

Posted By Michelle Pederson, Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Rev. Dr. Robert “Bob” Charles Kimball died on May 29, 2017 at the age of 88.

Bob was born on June 6, 1928 in Rochester, NY, to parents Frederick Booth Kimball and Marguerite Steinmiller Kimball. He received a BA in psychology from Oberlin College in 1951, an MA in philosophy from Oberlin Graduate School in 1953, a BD from Oberlin Graduate School of Theology in 1955, and a PhD in the history and philosophy of religion from Harvard University in 1960.

Dr. Kimball was ordained in 1955 by the Medina Association of the Congregational Churches of Northern Ohio (now the United Church of Christ). He also held joint ministerial standing in the Unitarian Universalist Associations of Congregations. He served as minister of education in the First Hungarian Reformed Church of Cleveland, Ohio (1952-1955), and First Congregational Church of Hyde Park, Massachusetts (1955-1958). Kimball served as Lecturer on Religion and Mental Health at Harvard Divinity School (1959-1960), Professor of Theology at Starr King School for the Ministry, and member of the core doctoral faculty of the Graduate Theological Union of Berkeley, California (1960-1998). He was also President of Starr King School for the Ministry from 1968-1983, and Dean from 1983-1997.

In 1959, theologian Paul Tillich appointed Dr. Kimball as his literary executor, a position he held until 1987. Following Tillich's death in 1965, Bob worked closely with Hannah Tillich, the executor of Paul Tillich's estate, concerning literary matters and the establishment of the Tillich archives at Andover-Harvard Theological Library. Dr. Kimball was the editor of Theology of Culture: Essays by Paul Tillich (1959) and the author of several books including Restless Is the Heart (1988), Sanctified Violence (2004), A Chinese Lady and Friends (2010), and Dilemma: The Christianity Faith (2011).

Bob loved writing sonnets, and he wrote one every year for his birthday. His last sonnet exemplifies his commitment to his wife, Lorna. They were a true team for 65 years. The last paragraph reads:


The purpose of it all, for several years, since memory-loss became Our concern,

is for Lorna to feel (as well as be) secure and happy in Our lovely home,

which Lorna found, as she always has, and keeps beautiful;   and I learn

each day, often each hour-moment, of love as a living poem.

Bob also loved to visit local places and converse with anyone and everyone. An avid walker, he exercised every day. He also loved to play in the kitchen, experimenting with different ways to marinade meats. He also greatly cared for his daughter’s two Newfoundland dogs. His grandchildren called him “Boppa”—a compromise, since he wanted to be called Bob, and not Grampa.

Bob was immensely grateful to his children for their help in his caring for Lorna as she battled Alzheimer’s toward the end of her life, and he talked to his children daily.

His legacy at Starr King School for the Ministry was long. Retired Starr King Professor and longtime friend Ron Cook remembers:

Besides reviving the near defunct Starr King School for the Ministry in the late 60s, but keeping its student-centered education as the foundation of Thomas King School for Religious Leadership; and encouraging the admission of many women and gay students; and creating don rags and the non-resident period; and opening membership on the Board, Admissions, Scholarship and Curriculum Committees to students, and allowing students to teach classes (he deeply believed that students brought knowledge and experience and could be trusted in wanting to know more); and persistently supporting Hosea Williams and the Center for Urban Black Studies to the irritation of the presidents of the other GTU schools; he was a serious clarinetist and could discuss, into the night, the differences and strengths in Bennie Goodman and Artie Shaw; and could also appreciate fine films like the Die Hard series, seemingly written by 14 year olds for 12 year olds.

Former student Keith Kron, now the Transitions Director at the UUA, who studied and worked with Bob (as well as serving on the faculty search committee with him in 1996) remembers:

Bob’s use of purple and green to describe theological concepts was well-known by every student: Green being used to described groundedness, connection, and oneness with God and life, and purple represented disconnection and non-presence to the Holy. When I had to be out of the office on a UU trip, I left Bob a note that said, “I’m off to Spokane today and won’t be in the office. But I decided, when I had to make a choice, to take the green shirt as opposed to the purple one.”  Bob wrote to him—and to anything purple—a note of apology in reply. 

He is survived by children Seth, Jeanette, Amy, and Paul; and six grandchildren. He was predeceased earlier this year by wife of 65 years, the love of his life, Lorna Jean Thomas.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that contributions be made to the charity of one’s own choosing, though specific donations to Starr King School for the Ministry are also welcomed.

There will be no formal memorial service, but a barbeque is being planned whereat family and friends can gather in remembrance of Bob.

Notes of condolence can be sent to, where they will be gathered and sent to the family.

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