Pastors' Memoirs

Robert Harris Kesler, 1918-2007

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 Frederick Buechner was fond of noting that the French translation of the Beatitude “Blessed are the meek” was “Heureux sont les debonnairs.” Robert Harris Kesler truly exemplified the adjective “debonair” in its best meanings: gracious, courteous, stylish, friendly, and blessed with a grace-filled spirit. Harris was known for being a dancer, actor, scholar, traveler — and one of the Virginia Conference’s most respected pastors.
  Born on Aug. 25, 1918, Harris was the son of Ernest P. and Maude H. Kesler
of Roanoke. He was a proud graduate of Roanoke city schools, of Randolph-
Macon College (where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa), and of Duke Divinity School. He served a seven-point charge in Prince George before becoming a Navy chaplain in 1944 and serving in the Pacific theater. Upon his Navy discharge in 1946 Harris married Sarah Thomas of Oxford, N.C. Together they moved to New York City, where he studied at Union Theological Seminary under noted theologian Paul Tillich, among others.
  Returning to Virginia in 1947, Harris served eight appointments. Three of them were named Main Street (surely some sort of conference record): McKinney, Main Street (Emporia), Duncan Memorial (Ashland), Main Street (Suffolk), Asbury (Hampton), Epworth (Norfolk), Main Street (Waynesboro), and First (Salem). He was widely recognized throughout his 41 years of ministry as a skilled preacher, compassionate counselor, and effective pastor.
 Harris retired in 1984, and he and Sarah returned to live in Ashland. Randolph-Macon College had previously honored him with a Doctor of Divinity degree, and he proudly served on the college’s Board of Trustees for 22 years. In 1996, Sarah, his beloved partner through 50 years of marriage, faith and dancing, passed away. Shortly thereafter Harris moved to the Hermitage at Cedarfield; he was soon regarded as one of their most congenial, fit and well-dressed residents. In 1998 Harris celebrated his 80th birthday by riding one of Paramount’s Kings Dominion’s famous roller coasters.
 This writer was honored to have known Harris Kesler as a parishioner, mentor, fellow Kiwanian, friend, and brother in Christ. His sudden death on June 23, 2007, — this writer’s birthday — has left an elegant void in the fellowship of the Virginia Conference. One can pray he was greeted by God Eternal with a beatitude of grace: “Blessed are you, my beloved and debonair servant. Enter into my joy.”
– Lawrence W. Buxton


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