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1927 - 2013
THORNBURG, Robert Watts Dean Emeritus of Boston University, passed away at his winter home in Estero, Florida, on December 29th. Robert was born on October 10, 1927, in Chicago. He graduated from DePauw University with graduate study at Garrett Theological Seminary at Northwestern University and at Union Seminary at Columbia University and received honorary Doctorate Degrees from DePauw University and Illinois Wesleyan University. He joined his father and his twin brother as an ordained United Methodist (UMC) Minister, serving parish churches in Chicago, Northbrook and Peoria, Illinois, before becoming the Associate General Secretary of the UMC Board of Higher Education and Ministry. While in Chicago, the Chicago Chamber of Commerce named him one of their Ten Outstanding Young Men. During the 1960s and 70s he was an active leader in human and civil rights, chairing the Human Rights Commission in Peoria, Illinois. From 1978 until his retirement in 2001, Robert was Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University, with responsibility for the religious activities at the University, as well as serving on the faculty of the School of Theology. For 23 years he was the voice of Marsh Chapel on Sunday morning on WBUR. During the 1980s he became a nationally recognized expert on destructive religious cults through writings, speeches and work with cult members and their families. His love of sports made him a major fan of the BU Basketball team, traveling with them to virtually every game. The University honored him with his induction into Phi Beta Kappa and the Scarlet Key award. During his 50-year career he received many honors and awards, but he was most proud of the Thornburg 1 jersey given to him by the BU Basketball team. Throughout his life he served as a trustee of numerous other charitable, religious and educational organizations, often in leadership roles. Bob was known for his passion for his work and his love of people always looking at the bright side of life and the good in everyone. As John Silber, the BU President said, The problem with you, Thornburg, is that youre a congenital optimist. His greatest love was for his family, including gatherings in their Boston, Berkshires, and New Hampshire homes along with great reunion trips for the children and grandchildren he often called them his investment in memories. When Bobs mobility became more limited, he enjoyed regular Facebook communication with his grandchildren and a wide circle of friends including many former Boston University students. Along the Boston waterfront he was always recognized in his wheelchair on his daily walks with his dogs. He is survived by his second wife of 35 years, Ann, his twin brother Richard (Peabody, MA) and his sister Mary Cooper (Rochester, NY); his children, Beth Thornburg (Ashland City, TN), Rob Thornburg (Allentown, PA), Judy Zimmerman (Franklin, TN), Anne Mann (Eugene, OR); 8 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren; his first wife Carol Thornburg (Nashville, TN); and his faithful canine companions, Queen and Princess Bean. A private service for the family was held in Florida. A memorial service will be held on February 15th at 1 p.m. at Marsh Chapel at Boston University (735 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston). The family requests that in lieu of flowers memorial contributions can be made to the Animal Rescue League of Boston or a . Condolences may be expressed online at www.shikanyfuneralhome.com.
Published in The Boston Globe on Jan. 7, 2014
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