Robert was born January 3, 1928, to Ora Belle Simmons Newton and Robert D. Newton in Camden, Arkansas. He spent his early years in Camden, in Moss Point, MS, and in Memphis, TN, where he attended Central High School, played football, and was graduated in 1945. He
attended Yale University on the GI Bill after serving in Japan for 18 months in the Occupation Army. He started Yale in Engineering, changed to Math, and by his senior year in 1950, had decided to attend seminary.
Robert attended Yale Divinity School and finished his Master of Divinity degree Magna Cum Laude at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion from Columbia University, writing his thesis on “time” in the view of 3 noted theologians: Barth, Bultmann, and Cullmann. He was hired by DePauw in 1956, teaching for 52 years until 2008. During that time he spearheaded the re-write of the faculty by-laws, was active in teaching Writing Across the Curriculum to his faculty colleagues to support the “W” requirement. He served on many faculty committees (notably Faculty Comm. on Faculty, and Faculty Committee on Administration), and was chair of his Dept for 18 years. Bob was
awarded the $10,000 Tucker Prize in 1989 as an Outstanding Faculty Member and was the inaugural holder of the Blair and Martha Rieth Professsorship of Applied Ethics from 1992 to 2008.
Bob’s father, Robert Newton, Sr., was an outstanding athlete at the University of Florida inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame, and Bob followed in his father’s footsteps, playing football (tackle) for the 8th Army at Yokohama, Japan, and full back and kicker for the Yale JV team for one season. He enjoyed biking in his retirement, and biked into his 90's. Some of his proudest moments were teaching his daughter Beth and grandchildren Robert and Harriet how to play tennis, and he was delighted when Harriet made the tennis team at Ohio Wesleyan. He attended sporting events for all of his grandchildren, encouraging Emma in her basketball games during middle school.
Bob was a good carpenter: he made a rocking boat, a climbing bar, and a slide for his children which ultimately got passed-on to the nursery classroom at Gobin UMC. He also helped son Chris construct a chariot for the GHS Latin Club. He was mechanically very talented, and felt if a “man had built it, a man could fix it,” an adage he learned from his father, and passed on to his son, Christopher, who is also a “fix it” man. This title was invented by young grandson Robert, who, when he broke something, would reassure you that “Bob-Bob will fix it.” He enjoyed telling imaginative stories off the top of his head, and both his children were raised on bedtime stories about adventurous children.
During his years at DePauw Bob had many sabbaticals in Cambridge, England, and one in Heidelberg, Germany, where he prepared new courses. He especially enjoyed teaching “Basic Beliefs of Modern Man” which he and two colleagues had a Lilly grant to develop and taught together over many years. He also enjoyed teaching “God, Evil, and the Meaning of Life,” “Biomedical Ethics,” and many topic courses on theologians like Tillich and Niebuhr, with whom he had studied at Union Theological Seminary.
Bob had attended the Methodist Church all his life and during his college went caravanning in South Carolina one summer after discharge from the army. This was a youth ministry sponsored by the Church. Bob was ordained an elder in the Methodist Church in 1957, and was often a supply preacher in many surrounding churches: Canaan, Fillmore, Reelsville, Ladoga, Putnamville, and others. He served 8 years on the United Methodist Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, screening new applicants for ordination. He wrote curriculum for the Church, “Where Becoming Begins,” used in adult classes. In conjunction with his wife, Ann, they wrote two quarterlies (both teacher and student books) for the nursery class entitled “How We Can Know God” and “Friends Help Us Know God.” In addition they collaborated on a resource guide for parents of 5th and 6th grade children, “The Church at Your House.” Bob’s articles were published in the journals “Teaching Ethics,” entitled “Academic Advocacy: Appeals and Abuses,” and another article in “Liberal Education,” entitled “Public and Private at College.” Bob co-coached the DePauw Ethics Bowl Team with Marcia McKelligan from its beginning in 1999 until the present.
In the local church, Gobin Memorial, he served as Sunday School superintendent and on the finance committee, and as a resource for many pastors. He was a long time member of the NAACP. He was active in civil rights at the University during the 60's and was an honorary “Broken Arrow” with the 6 students who were expelled from their sorority for trying to arrange for an exchange student from an all black college to come to DePauw. The student from Bennett College did come to DePauw, but was not able to live in the sorority.
Bob’s hobbies included photography and making telescopes. He taught both of his children and many local high school science teachers how to grind mirrors to make telescopes during summer seminars at DePauw. In his later years, Bob developed a computer program to help himself and others plan financially for retirement. He enjoyed his daily coffee with his retired friends and colleagues. He continued to work into his 90's for the University as a volunteer on the Institutional Review Board, screening research projects of undergraduates.
Bob is survived by his wife of 69 years Ann Kelly Newton, his daughter Beth Newton Watson, also an ordained United Methodist minister and part-time chaplain at DePauw, and son-in-law Ross Davies; son, Christopher Newton, Assistant Director of the Pulliam Center for Contemporary Media at DePauw, and daughter-in-law Beth Ann. He is also survived by three grandchildren: Robert Watson and wife Claire of Washington, D. C., Harriet Ann Watson of Bloomington, IN, and Emma Catherine Newton of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN. He is also survived by two sisters: Ellen Newton Chaplin of Omaha, Nebraska, and Evelyn Newton Parker of Nashville, TN., and the DePauw Coffee Group.
He was preceded in death by his parents. Arrangements for cremation have been made with Bittles and Hurt with a Memorial Service at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church on February 29, 2020 at 3 p.m. Calling hours will be one hour preceding the service. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the DePauw College Ethics Bowl Team, c/o APPE, P. O. Box 37, Greencastle, IN 46135-0037.