Remembering the Right Reverend Robert Whitridge Estill
September 7, 1927 - October 9, 2019
By Diocesan House
It is with significant sadness and also great gratitude for his life that we share with you the news of the death of our beloved Bishop Robert Estill, IX Bishop of North Carolina. Bishop Estill died peacefully yesterday, surrounded by his family. The Rev. Jim Adams, rector of Christ Church, Raleigh, was with them. Each of your bishops had spent time with Bishop Estill over the summer, and Bishop Sam was able to visit and pray with him in the hospital last Sunday. The announcement below is our heartfelt tribute to Bishop Estill. We look forward to celebrating his life, leadership and faithful legacy on Saturday, October 19, at 11 a.m. in the sanctuary of Christ Church, 120 East Edenton Street, Raleigh, 27601.
Please hold his wife, Joyce, and the family in your prayers.
Oh Lord, support us all the day long until the shadows lengthen, the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of our life is over, and our work is done. Then, in thy mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last.
May Bishop Estill rest in peace and rise in glory,
Bishop Sam and Bishop Anne
REMEMBERING THE RIGHT REVEREND ROBERT WHITRIDGE ESTILL
The Right Reverend Robert Whitridge Estill passed into eternal glory on October 9, 2019 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He ws surrounded by his family.
Born September 7, 1927, in Lexington, Kentucky, to parents Robert and Elizabeth, Estill witnessed nine decades of history. He put his time to excellent use and was a talented raconteur, always ready with a story about one of his adventures to regale friends and strangers alike. An advocate for those marginalized by the Church, Estill served his beloved Episcopal Church with vision and warmth.
"Bishop Estill was an exemplary leader who always lived fully and faithfully into his vocation as a servant of God and of God's people," the Right Reverend Sam Rodman, bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, said. "He was a man of character who also had a gift for caricature. His cartoons captured the human foibles we all share, as well as a delight in the ways we live and love imperfectly, as agents of God's grace. Bishop Estill's humor was never more disarming than when he turned it on himself, which he often did."
"Bob Estill has the strength of prophetic leadership wrapped in the old fashioned charms of a Southern gentleman," the Right Reverend Anne Hodges-Copple, bishop suffragan of the Diocese of North Carolina, said. "He took his role as defender of the faith seriously while also taking himself and the politics of the church lightly. He had a wicked sense of humor that could zing as well as disarm. Best of all was that he could laugh at himself while remaining steadfast in serving God and the Church."
After receiving his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Kentucky in 1949, Estill went on to earn his Bachelor of Divinity at Episcopal Divinity School in 1952 and later in life his Master of Sacred Theology (1960), Doctor of Ministry (1979) and Doctor of Divinity (1984) from Sewanee, the University of the South. He was ordained to the diaconate and the priesthood in 1952 by the Right Reverend William R. Moody, bishop of Lexington. On June 17, 1950, Estill wed Joyce Haynes, with whom he would share a 69-year marriage.
Estill's service to the church began in his native Kentucky, where he served as the rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Middlesboro, (1952-1955) and Christ Church Cathedral in Lexington (1955-1963). He then served in the D.C. area for several years as the rector of St. Alban's Parish (1969-1973) and a faculty member at Virginia Theological Seminary (1971-1976) before moving to Dallas, Texas, to serve as the rector of St. Michael's and All Angels (1976-1980). From there he was elected bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of North Carolina in 1980. He succeeded the Right Reverend Thomas Fraser as the IX Bishop of North Carolina on January 27, 1983, when he was consecrated by the Most Reverend John M. Allen. He served as bishop until his retirement in 1994.
As bishop, Estill sought to deepen and extend the ordained ministry of the Church through a commitment to clergy continuing education, active encouragement of aspirants for Holy Orders, support for the ordination of women and the revival of the diaconate in this Diocese. At the time of his retirement in 1994, he could look with justifiable satisfaction at the growth during his episcopate in the number of clergy resident in the Diocese, including an additional 50 women clergy and 22 deacons.
"When Estill was still a priest in the Diocese of Dallas, he was an early and often lonely voice in support of women in lay and ordained ministry," Hodges-Copple said. "He licensed my mother to be a lay chalice bearer at the Episcopal School of Dallas, a bold move in the early eighties that caused some to resign from the board of trustees. I chose to do my discernment process in the Diocese of North Carolina because I knew under Bishop Estill's leadership I could just be my full and honest self without needing to defend women's equality in general."
Estill also sought to strengthen diocesan institutions and to honor long-standing mission commitments. He was a strong proponent of youth, campus and social ministries. A capital campaign conducted in the 1980s enabled the Diocese to expand the facilities of the Camp & Conference Center.
In addition to his service to the Episcopal Church as priest and bishop, Estill also served as the chair of the Kentucky Human Rights Commission for 31 years and on the board of trustees of General Theological Seminary. He taught at Duke Divinity School, presided over the North Carolina Council of Churches, and chaired the Episcopal Church Board of Theological Education and the board of Kanuga Camp and Conference Center. He was also the author of The Sun Shines Bright, a memoir published in 2017.
"There was a graciousness to him that made one feel as though there was room to be yourself in his presence, a generous spirit that always left me feeling more sure of God's love," Rodman said. "In addition to our occasional visits, it was a great gift, recently, to be invited to celebrate with him a Sunday service that he offered faithfully once a month to the residents of Cypress Residential Community, where he and Joyce made their home. His devotion to God and to God's people was his constant focus, and in this he embodied what it means to be faithful."
Estill is survived by his wife, Joyce, their three children, Helen Estill Foote (Joe), Robert W. Estill, Jr. and Elizabeth Estill Robertson (Joe), six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.