Robert Etheridge ’49

On Wednesday, December 23rd, at home and surrounded by his family, Robert Charles Etheridge passed away at the age of 93 after a 20 year battle with COPD.

Bob Etheridge was born on March 16, 1927 at Georgia Baptist Hospital in Atlanta, twelve minutes after his fraternal twin, the late Jack Paul Etheridge. He grew up on Peachtree Road just east of current Lenox Square, attended R L Hope Elementary School, graduated from high school at the Darlington School in Rome, GA, and enrolled at Davidson College in North Carolina.

In 1945 he persuaded his father, a Fulton County Superior Court judge, to pull strings to get him into the Army despite his 4F status. After serving at Fort Jackson through the end of WWII, he enrolled in the Business School at Emory University and graduated with a BBA in 1949.

In June of 1949 Bob and Mary Elizabeth Jackson were married. They had two sons, Charles and Zach, and a daughter, Virginia. Less than a year after their wedding, their surviving parents (Bob’s mother and Mary Elizabeth’s father), who had met at the same high school graduation party where their children’s romance began, were also married, creating a curious family situation in which the young newlyweds technically became step-brother and -sister, and their children could describe themselves as their own cousins, which delighted them no end.

After eight years as a schedule engineer with the Atlantic Steel Company and a short stint with the New England Life Insurance Company, Bob’s powerful faith led him to move his young family to Brazil, where he served as treasurer for the West Brazil Mission of the Presbyterian Church (US). There he faced the challenge of being a layman in a culture where all missionaries were assumed to be ordained preachers.

He adjusted successfully to a new language, a new banking system, and a currency subject to chronic hyperinflation. He also learned to adapt the Lord’s work to local reality; his was surely one of the few budgets ever submitted to the Presbyterian Church that included a line in the expense column labeled “money for bribes.”

After serving for 24 years in Brazil, Bob worked for two years as mission treasurer in Kinshasa, Zaire (where cash came in bricks and a careless word could get you arrested by dictator Mobuto’s thugs) then wound up his career with another five years’ service at Presbyterian Church headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.

A lifelong fascination with airplanes led to a pilot’s license and the purchase of a Piper J3 Cub in 1958; one of Bob’s great regrets was selling the plane when he moved to Brazil. Ten years later he bought an old Cessna 172, renewed his license, and eventually completed an epic 5000-mile flight from Campinas, Brazil to Atlanta with his wife and daughter aboard. He was so thoughtful and committed a family man, however, that when his closest friend died in a plane crash Bob sold the 172 and never flew again.

Bob Etheridge was defined by his faith, his marriage, and his abiding urge to be as good a person as he could be. With Mary Elizabeth’s constant support and encouragement they committed their lives to their Christian ideals, setting an unforgettable example for their children and all who knew them. Bob was beloved for his kindness, generosity, and forgiveness; he never lost faith in anyone (except perhaps a few politicians), and always looked for the good in everyone he encountered.

Bob Etheridge is survived by his wife of 71 years, Mary Elizabeth; and by his son Zach and daughter Virginia, granddaughters Elizabeth and Mary Claire, and great-grandchildren Robert and Gina.

Arrangements for a memorial service will be announced by North Decatur Presbyterian Church at a later date. The family suggests that gifts to honor Bob’s life be made to North Decatur Presbyterian Church in Decatur.

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