Eulogy for Robert Shapiro (October 20, 1956-September 14, 2018)
Robert Shapiro was a Renaissance man. He was a gentleman, displaying his Southern upbringing—and he was a scholar. He learned Greek in order to read the New Testament in the original language. He read widely and voraciously (particularly political biographies, such as ones on Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt, and James A. Garfield). Having a great curiosity about things, he would inquire and research, with the result that he could discourse on virtually any topic. In these and other ways, Bob Shapiro evidenced his sharp mind and incisive thinking.
Bob Shapiro loved all things Shakespeare. Yes, he enjoyed seeing other plays, too. But for more than fifteen years, he and Patty were fixtures at the Shakespeare Tavern in midtown Atlanta. They not only volunteered countless hours, but they also sometimes made special contributions just so one of the Bard’s obscure works could be brought to life on the stage.
Bob Shapiro was a connoisseur of fine food and fine wine. He had trekked globally, having visited far-flung places such as Australia, Singapore, Israel, and Europe. His travels often were for business, but there were also plenty of occasions when they were for sheer pleasure. He and his wife were found on many a cruise on the high seas and on majestic rivers.
He was always up for an adventure and for trying new things. He was a sportsman and an outdoorsman. He had scuba dived in the Caribbean, and hiked a significant portion of the Appalachian Trail—many of those miles while he was battling his illness. In high school in Ft. Pierce, Florida, he played catcher on the baseball team. And, of course, he was an avid fan of his beloved Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
And speaking of Georgia Tech, that’s where he met the love of his life, Patty. Somehow, in the midst of his studies, he had fallen in love. Bob was not quite twenty when he and Patty tied the knot in September 1976.
But it was during his early days at Tech that Bob had the most significant experience of his life, when he came to faith in Jesus Christ. As you might guess from his last name, Bob’s father was from a Jewish background (though he was a non-observant Jew). His mother was Roman Catholic, and so, while growing up, he attended the Catholic Church. But his personal commitment to Christ came in college. Upon his conversion to Christ, he immediately began studying the Bible and also searching for the church that he believed was most in conformity with Scripture. He eventually found his way to a Bible-believing Presbyterian congregation, and he became convinced of the truth of Presbyterian doctrine, including the doctrines of grace (God’s sovereign predestinating love of His elect) and church government (representative rule by elders). Later, he would become conscientiously committed to historic Presbyterian worship, including the practice of exclusive psalmody without musical accompaniment.
From the beginning of his Christian walk, then, Bob was a churchman. He not only loved Jesus, but he also loved Jesus’ mystical body, the church. Wherever he would move—from Georgia to Minnesota to New York to Georgia back to New York and back to Georgia (he worked for I.B.M., after all, and “I.B.M.”, you may recall, used to stand for “I’ve Been Moved”)—he would always seek out a good church, and would always seek the good of the church. There was a time that he would drive himself, his wife, and young family close to two hours one way each week, because that was the distance of the closest congregation where he could worship without violating his conscience. The Shapiros were graciously hospitable, and numerous times not only hosted people for meals but also housed them, when, say, missionaries were passing through and needed a place to stay.
That commitment to the church continued when the Shapiros took up residence in Cumming, Georgia, in 1993. His vision had always been for the establishment of a faithful Presbyterian witness in the Forsyth County area. Towards that end, he participated in efforts within four branches of the church—the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America—to found a congregation there. (With his typical sense of humor, Bob said he would have liked to have named the congregation Second Cumming Presbyterian Church.) In 2010, his efforts were rewarded with the organization of Northminster Reformed Presbyterian Church. Upon that occasion, Bob was ordained to ecclesiastical office and became the congregation’s first ruling elder. Even though the Northminster congregation dissolved after a few years, seeds from that work were planted in inner-city Atlanta, and Bob supported and was committed to Atlanta Presbyterian Fellowship.
As a ruling elder, Bob demonstrated faithful service not only locally but also regionally and nationally. He was on the ruling body of the Reformed Presbyterian mission church in Pageland, South Carolina. He served on the Reformed Presbyterian Board of Pensions, and also was on a committee of the Synod tasked with studying how to increase participation by ruling elders in the meetings of Synod. Twenty years ago, while still a layman, he became President of Presbyterian International News Service and Editor-in-Chief of its newspaper, Presbyterian & Reformed News, a publication which sought to effect reform within the Presbyterian Church in America by means of a straightforward recounting of its story. When the annals of church history are written a hundred years from now, undoubtedly historians will note the significant role played by Robert Shapiro, whose name appeared prominently on the masthead.
Bob was elected and ordained as a ruling elder not only because of his knowledge and personal piety, but also because of the way he had exercised godly rule in his household. He and Patty raised their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. To evaluate a man, look at his family. In considering Bob Shapiro, what does one see? One sees a loving and adoring wife, six strong children, and a multitude of grandchildren who are also being raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
The Shapiro family is strong because its patriarch was strong. And he was strong because of his faith. It was his faith that was the organizing principle around which his life revolved, whether thinking of his being a scholar, a Shakespeare aficionado, a connoisseur of fine things, a sportsman and outdoorsman, an adventurer, an expert salesman, a volunteer for numerous organizations, a churchman, a husband, a father, a grandfather. Bob Shapiro loved life and he lived it to the fullest. However, he did so with a view to the glory of God. If you want to know what made Bob Shapiro tick, look at his faith.
But as Bob would be quick to point out, the real strength was not because of himself. His faith was not faith in himself, but faith in Another—a trusting in the blood and the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ. As Bob lay dying in the hospital, and right after portions from the great resurrection chapter of the Bible, I Corinthians 15, were read, he mustered sufficient physical strength to say, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” And that affirmation from Job sums up the life and the faith of Robert Shapiro. Amen.
Submitted by Frank J. Smith