Robert L. Stephenson
August 11, 1928 - March 20, 2020
Bob Stephenson, as he was known to his beloved Norman community, left his earthly family to join his heavenly one on March 20, 2020, at home surrounded by his family.
Bob was a fiercely proud Oklahoman, born and raised in Blair - a small farming town in southwest Oklahoma, where his family grew wheat and cotton. That's where, at age 12, he first met his wife of 70 years, Norma.
An all-around star athlete, Bob was a particularly gifted baseball player, playing for the Oklahoma Sooners 1947-1950 (a 1950 all-American), and professionally thereafter in the St. Louis Cardinals organization. Bob was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1952, and for the next two years served his country mostly by playing baseball in armed services leagues in Japan. In April 1955, "Bobby" Stephenson made his Major League debut at shortstop, wearing #21, and in his only season in the majors batted .243 for the Cards. Bob later would captivate his family and friends with stories of his playing days with the likes of Stan Musial, Ken Boyer, Red Schoendienst and Norman's own Willard Schmidt.
With a Geology degree from OU, Bob retired from baseball in 1957 and began his career as a geologist with the Pure Oil Company. He then co-founded Potts-Stephenson Exploration Company with Ray Potts, who became his partner for more than 50 years, and together they proved to be highly skilled in their field of petroleum exploration. In the 1980's, Bob entered the radio broadcasting business with his son Tim, as the owner of stations WWLS and KNOR in Norman, KCLI/KFWG in Clinton, and KDLB AM-FM in Henryetta.
A devout Christian and diehard Sooner fan, Bob also became a noteworthy philanthropist as his business success grew. He contributed much of his wealth to a variety of causes, including to the University of Oklahoma (Sooner athletics as well as the Geology/Geosciences School and Religious Studies Department); to his church, (he was a longtime member of First Baptist Church of Norman, and the founding member of NorthHaven Church of Norman); to the many moderate Baptist causes and organizations in which he believed, and; to multiple endowments funding scholarships at OU and OBU.
Many will remember him as an athlete, a man of faith, a professional rockhound, a quiet philanthropist, an independent thinker, an avid reader, a World War II historian and, of course, a devout Sooner fan and timekeeper at OU football games and wrestling matches. But, to those who knew him best, Bob Stephenson was foremost a family man, who married his high school sweetheart Norma, with whom he raised their two children, Tim and Sandy.
To Tim and Sandy, he set the bar high, then lifted them over it. No, they don't have to be geologists; yes, they should seek their calling, even if it takes a couple of swings. He taught them that women, not just men, can excel. He taught them long-forgotten games of cribbage, fantan and dominoes, mastered on long minor league bus and train trips - played ardently now by his successor generations. He taught them that the best way to leave a football stadium was to park 3 miles away and walk (pant). He taught them not to pull that finger.
To Norma, Tim and Sandy, he was a devoted husband and loving father, but to a small, very lucky group of us, he will always be "Gramps" - the silliest guy in the world who would devise the most outlandish games, noises, jokes, and pranks to make us laugh. These would usually elicit a drawled scolding from Grams, "Ohhhh Bob" - much to our giggling glee. He taught us innumerable lessons: how to "squash the bug" when we swing a baseball bat; how we should boldly leave our mark on the world (and not just by "correcting" every map and globe by adding "Blair, Oklahoma"); how the art of practical joking is actually an art of love; how sometimes the ugliest-looking rocks are the ones with the best stories and prettiest secrets once you let them soak awhile; and how doing the right thing may often be a lonely endeavor, but is one worth doing - stubbornly and unabashedly and always.
Bob/Dad/Gramps was a humble giant, his family's delight. He exemplified decency and defined what it means to be a good person. His generosity, though boundless, was always painstakingly private. He never sought praise or public recognition, indeed going to great lengths to avoid it. He reserved his pride for a few things only - his family, his faith, his principles, and his alma matter. His strength was perhaps most evident in these convictions, but no less so when he lifted his squealing grandchildren and great-grandchildren over his head. His passing leaves a great big OU-shaped hole in the hearts of all those blessed to have known him.
Above all, Bob was an ardent believer in doing what is right, every time. To those who loved him, that is his most treasured gift, the legacy he left to his family. His legacy to the world? Well that would be:
"Everything's right when it's red and white!"
Boomer Sooner. Always.
A formal memorial service in Norman will be held in the future. Memorials may be made in remembrance of Bob Stephenson to the NorthHaven Baptist Church Building Fund in Norman, OK, or any other charity of choice.
Arrangements by Havenbrook Funeral Home in Norman. Please share a message or memory of Bob on the Tribute Wall for the family at www.havenbrookfuneralhome.com
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Published in Oklahoman on Mar. 25, 2020.