Robert W. "Bob" Shaffer

Pastor, community leader and advocate, dies at 92

Of Berea, KY, peacefully passed away surrounded by his family on January 25, 2022.  He was the loving and devoted husband of Carol Phillips Shaffer for 62 years.

Born in 1930 in Altoona, Pennsylvania, he was the son of the late Rex and Catherine Shaffer.

At the age of 13, Bob determined to spend his life serving others. In 1963, he and his father took a bus to the March on Washington, where they heard Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Spurred by those early experiences, Bob went on to be a relentless servant leader and impactful social entrepreneur.

After graduating from Williamsport High School, where he was a high-scoring running back, Bob earned degrees at Wheaton College and Princeton Theological Seminary.  In 1964, in response to a call for ministers to go to Mississippi to assist in voter registration, he worked in Hattiesburg, Mississippi during the time that three young civil rights workers were murdered and buried in a Mississippi dyke. He returned home and recruited more people to go to Mississippi.

Sargent Shriver, the Director of The Office of Economic Opportunity, noted Bob’s efforts and chose him as one of twenty specialists to lead anti-poverty programs in the nation’s poorest counties. Bob chose the Cumberland Valley of Kentucky, where he helped to found Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp. Now over fifty years old, it has been one of the most successful War on Poverty programs and helped create or maintain 25,000 jobs in rural Kentucky.

Bob was a community organizer par excellence and had a hand in launching countless initiatives and programs in Kentucky and New Jersey, where he was on the board of the Fair Share Housing Center.  His advocacy, strategy, and negotiation skills were matched by his passion and courage. Anti-poverty advocates faced many threats, and he recalled moving his mattress to the bathroom in one motel room because he feared someone might shoot through the windows after a contentious meeting. He told of a colleague who always left a toothpick on the hood of his parked car, to make sure someone didn’t try to rig it with a bomb.

After 20 years of government service, where he supported Head Start programs in the mid-Atlantic area, Bob and Carol moved from Haddonfield, NJ to a farm on Red Lick in Estill County, KY in 1991.  There, they lived and worked among the people they had come to love during their early years.  He retired from farming at 78 and moved to Berea, KY.  At a young age, Bob had oriented his life around faith.  He recalls that the message of God’s unconditional love was like a sparkling mountain spring for a thirsty hiker. For nearly 30 years after moving back to Kentucky, he served as an interim pastor at Presbyterian churches in the Berea area, including Winchester, Mt. Sterling, Whites Memorial, and Union Church in Berea.

His commitment to giving a voice to the unheard burned bright within him.  In his last years, he emerged as a spokesperson for a citizen’s group to prevent Ashland Oil, Inc. and Waste Management, Inc. from dumping radioactive soil in the Estill County Landfill. Determination, skill and peaceful protests compelled the corporations to abandon their plans.

Bob always had a smile on his face and a kind word to encourage others.  He believed that things could and would get better.  He practiced long faithfulness in the same direction – whether through his warmth, his faith, his activism, or his love for his family.
In addition to his beloved wife, Carol, Bob leaves to cherish his memory five children: Stephen Patrick Shaffer (Starr) of Weddington, NC; Beth Marcellite Schlitt (Mark) of Haddonfield, NJ: Daniel Efrem Shaffer (Dinah) of Richmond, VA; Collin Winfield Shaffer of Richmond, VA; and Robert Benjamin Shaffer of Berea, KY.  He was Grandad to 15 grandchildren: Clare Shaffer (Brendan) of Greenville, NC; Rex Shaffer (Mady) of Asheville, NC; Samuel Shaffer of Weddington, NC; Raymond Schlitt (Bia) of Richmond, VA; Helene and Robert Schlitt of Haddonfield; William, Catharine, Elizabeth, Joseph, and Elaine Shaffer of Richmond, VA; Camryn Shaffer (Amber) of Berea, KY; Aaron, Kierstin and Kaitlin Shaffer of Berea, KY.  Bob was also Great Grandad to Atreyu Thornton, of Little Rock, AR.  Bob also leaves behind two much-loved sisters, Beverly Gast of Whitemarsh, PA and Patricia Shaffer of Williamsport, PA.  He was pre-deceased by his older sister, the flautist, Elaine Shaffer Kurtz.

The family will gather privately at this time with plans to host a larger memorial in weeks to come, to further celebrate Bob’s rich life that touched so many. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in honor of Bob may be made to the Fair Share Housing Center, 510 Park Blvd., Cherry Hill, NJ 08002 or online at