The Rev. Dr. Robert N. Bacher, 87, of Bluffton, S.C., died on May 23, 2022, at his home in the arms of his loving wife Shirley, following a hard-fought battle with leukemia.
Born in Houston, TX, Bacher spent his formative years in multiple cities in the U.S. and Germany as his father was in the U.S. Army. He completed his undergraduate studies in English and Industrial Engineering at Texas A&M University, followed by the Master of Divinity degree from Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary, a predecessor institution to the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, which awarded him a distinguished alumnus award in 2002. He went on to receive a Master of Education degree from Temple University, Philadelphia, and Master and Doctor of Public Administration degrees from the University of Southern California.
Ordained a Lutheran minister in 1961, Bacher was mission developer and pastor of St. Mark Lutheran Church, Lakewood, CO, from 1961 to 1966. He then began serving as a national church executive for the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) in parish services, rising to head a large department and serve on the President’s Cabinet of Executives. When the LCA merged with two other national churches to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 1988, Bacher was named Executive for Administration in the Office of the Presiding Bishop. Many compare the scope of that role to chief of staff at the White House. He served as the large churchwide organization’s chief operating officer throughout the terms of the first two presiding bishops, Herbert Chilstrom and H. George Anderson. The Bachers retired to North Carolina in 2001 and later moved to Bluffton, South Carolina in 2011.
Over the course of his career, Bacher became widely known as a consultant to organizations, including internationally through his service as a board member of the Lutheran World Federation-supported Augusta Victoria Hospital on the famed Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem. Author of numerous articles in church and administration publications, he co-wrote two books, Chasing Down a Rumor: The Death of Denominations, with Kenneth Inskeep, and Church Administration: Programs, Process, Purpose, with Michael Cooper-White. A third book, featuring stories of hope, survival, and accomplishment from seven “Good Troublemakers” was in the proofreading stage at the time of his death. Bacher organized a national ecumenical cohort of ecclesiastical chief administrators and served as an executive coach and mentor to many denominational leaders.
In Chilstrom’s autobiography, A Journey of Grace, the ELCA’s first churchwide bishop described Bacher as “a sterling leader and committed churchman . . . the one who would become my alter ego.” Chilstrom concluded his praise for Bacher writing, “Because he served so well for me and my successor, I can only wish that I might have been able to clone him.”
Reflecting on Bacher, Anderson said, “I came to depend on Bob so much. His vision and creativity were vital in shaping the mission of the ELCA. There are many of us who cherished him and have thanked God for him.”
On a personal note, Bobé, as he was known to his loved ones, dearly loved his wife, his three “girls,” his sons-in-law, and grandchildren. He loved Shirley’s paintings and was exceedingly proud of his daughters. He was blessed to have been the presiding minister at each of his daughter’s and his grandson’s weddings. He was always interested in his grandchildren’s activities—baseball, swimming, acting, art, costume design, show choir, volleyball, horseback riding—all of which he traveled to see and support. He was also an avid reader and Duke (crazy, over-the-top, out-of-control) basketball supporter.
Bob was grateful that the Lutheran Church took him—a lapsed Methodist—in and called him to do the work he was best at—starting a church, leadership training, and administration. He was dedicated to actively promoting and supporting fairness, justice, and equality, marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was younger, and even going “viral” on social media in 2020 for an inspiring photo with Shirley in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. He made 17 trips to the Holy Land in support of better health care for Palestinians.
Bob died just three days shy of his 65th wedding anniversary with Shirley. He is survived by her and their three daughters and their spouses, Carol and Kevin March of Dallas, TX, Laurie and Charlie Tucker of Bluffton, SC, and Joy and Ivan Cropper of Indianapolis, IN; and five grandchildren, Sean (spouse Carolina), Shannon, Christina, Ella, Olivia; and great-granddaughter Hollynd.
A celebration of Bob Bacher’s life will be held on Friday, June 3 at 11:00 am at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Bluffton, SC.