top of page


It was in the 1930s and at the tail end of the Great Depression. His mother already had 3 young children, and times were tough. She had been told about a way to abort her baby, so she went to the bathtub, filled it with water, and applied the method. The fetus was supposed to discharge the baby’s tissue, and life would be over. Instead, nothing happened, and eventually, the baby boy, named Bob, was born. He lived 85 years.

Bob was a good athlete in high school, and he graduated from college and earned an MA in linguistics from the University of Michigan. He married a woman named Shirley—bright and outgoing--and they went to Papua New Guinea as linguists and Bible translators. They spent several years translating the New Testament for the Angor people, who live in a remote jungle area near the Indonesian border. They analyzed the language, and Bob wrote his PhD dissertation on its grammar for the University of Pennsylvania. I read Bob’s work, and Angor is a complicated, difficult language. However, Bob and Shirley learned to speak Angor, reduced it to writing, and then taught many Angor people to read and write their own language. On one furlough, Bob also was awarded a scholarship and earned an M.A. in New Testament studies at Wheaton College. He and Shirley published 47 articles.

I met Bob over 60 years ago, and we have always been good friends. Our paths crossed regularly at Branch conferences, linguistic meetings, in their work with the government education department representing SIL International, playing basketball at Ukarumpa, and in our homes. Their son Dan and our daughter Karol were in the same high school in PNG and have remained close friends to this day.

Bob wrote a book to help our members and others learn Tok Pisin, the main lingua franca of PNG. I helped him revise the book, and it was published in 1990. We also co-authored an article, team-taught linguistics at courses for PNG students, and collaborated in other ways. We were convinced that the future had to include PNG people as Bible translators and students of their own languages.

Shirley developed Alzheimer’s disease while they were in PNG, and they eventually returned to Ohio, Bob’s home state. We knew from our visits with them that Shirley was deteriorating, and about 20 years ago, she died. With her insurance money, Bob began a cycle of visiting, in turn, Kenya, Nepal, PNG, and his new home with his son and daughter-in-law in Tallahassee, Florida, each for 3 months every year for the next 16 or so years, until the Covid epidemic stopped him.

After Joice’s memorial service in May of 2021, Bob stayed with me for several days. He helped cook, and we laughed, reminisced, and prayed. He helped me through a very tough time in my life, like a true friend would.

In recent years, Bob and I have e-mailed each other and talked regularly on the phone. He often told me the story of how he almost did not make it into the world. He did not blame his mother—he understood her circumstances. He felt singularly blessed that God had allowed him to survive an attempted abortion, live many years (he was 85 when he went to heaven), and serve God in so many ways.

Bob died on October 11, 2023, and I talked to him at the hospital the day before he left for heaven. He had a growth on his throat, and his voice was raspy and weak, but he kept telling me how blessed he was. I am so grateful to God that I was able to talk to Bob, and if there was one thing that I will always remember about that conversation, it is Bob relating again and again how he had been BLESSED. To me, that is a word that encapsulated his thinking, and he passed on that blessing to many people.

When I heard the news of his death, I went to the back patio, prayed, and had a cry. Friends like Bob are my lifeblood and are hard to find, especially since Joice died. I believe that she and Bob (and many others, especially Shirley) are having a great conversation in heaven.

I believe Bob’s life, like my own and yours was foreordained by God. I also know that “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19.21).

Karl Franklin


bottom of page