G. Robert “Bob” Gary, longtime senior chaplain at Emory Hospital and equally longtime adjunct member of the Candler faculty in pastoral care, was one of the truly great figures in Candler and Emory’s long and rich tradition of theological education in the field of pastoral care and counseling.
Bob and I team-taught the introductory course in pastoral care in the 1970s, and Bob subsequently taught many other pastoral care courses at Candler. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him, and we became close friends and colleagues over our many years together on the faculty (he and I both came to Emory in 1971). I also learned an enormous amount about people and pastoral ministry from Bob, and highly valued all that he had to offer our students and our pastoral care curriculum. I especially remember his wonderful lecture on grief, in which he compared grieving to a trapeze artist letting go of one trapeze, for a liminal moment through thin air, before taking hold of the next one—and how essential that process of letting-go and taking-hold is to successful grieving—and successful living.
Bob held three degrees from Emory (BA, MDiv, and ThD). In addition to his own teaching at Candler until his retirement in 1997, he eagerly supported our pastoral care program by encouraging his clinical staff to teach one-hour elective courses, which was an enormous help to our curriculum, a great gift to our students, an enriching opportunity for his CPE supervisory staff, and a means of helping the Emory Hospital CPE program maintain close ties with Candler. He also contributed his extraordinary wisdom and warm pastoral perspective to faculty discussions about students and their process of professional development, and regularly participated in the larger life of the Candler faculty, frequently attending faculty meetings and retreats and social events. He and his wife Janet (a Candler faculty secretary, who survives him) also sometimes sang duets at faculty events (Bob and his whole family loved to sing).
At the same time Bob was clear about his own role and identity in the faculty. He did not see himself as a scholar, theorist, or professional theologian, nor was he. But Bob had a well thought-through understanding of his faith, his theology, the purpose of the church, methods of his ministry, and the work of clinical pastoral supervision. His pastoral theological wisdom was formed partly through his 1988 Candler ThD dissertation (a study of United Methodist ministers), but, even more, I think, through his years in parish ministry, his forty-year career in hospital chaplaincy, and his legendary supervision of CPE students. Bob was what I think of as an “old school,” traditional supervisor in many respects: he was warmly engaged with students, but he was also clear-sighted in putting the tough, personal questions to them, and in exercising an extraordinary degree of insight, courage, and honesty in helping them face their “issues.” Such a forthright, compassionate, no-nonsense caregiving style of supervision made him a truly great pastoral supervisor, and a true treasure for Candler, for Emory Hospital, and for its CPE program.
In his retirement Bob became a specialized pastoral counselor associated with the staff of the Care and Counseling Center of Georgia, and developed a high level of psychoanalytic expertise in group dynamics through his participation in the program of the famed Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London (where he earned its clinical certification). This specialized training gave him a pastoral skill that he employed with great effect in his retirement years as a both a pastoral counselor and congregational consultant. In this ministry Bob was able to help individuals and congregations find their way through difficult situations by combining his extraordinary skill at listening and understanding, his “non-anxious” presence in situations of tension and conflict, and his deeply internalized psychoanalytic insight into personal and group dynamics.
Bob was a deeply committed churchman, an active participant in the life of Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church on the Emory campus, and a loyal and active member of the United Methodist North Georgia Conference (he chaired the Board of Ordained Ministry). He was also a highly skilled organizer and administrator who amazed everyone at the extraordinary growth and national reach of the clinical pastoral education program he developed at Emory Hospital. He was, admittedly, highly ambitious, with a strong, self-confident ego, and was therefore adept at winning the institutional, political, and financial support of hospital and university administrators. As a result, he brought the Emory CPE program into national prominence, which drew theological students and lay men and women to Emory from far and wide, and raised up a cohort of future clinical pastoral education supervisors.
Bob Gary influenced and inspired a whole generation—and more—of Candler students and clinical pastoral education trainees at Emory Hospital. I am sure he would be the first to say that these students, colleagues and friends in ministry constitute his true legacy, which lives on in their lives and ministries. We are all in his debt, and can be grateful to God for all he was, and all he achieved, among us.
Read Gary’s obituary in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Photo courtesy of the Gary family.