Verily, A Servant of the Living Word
by Charles L. Bartow
G. Robert (Bob) Jacks, known to generations of students as R.J., died just
a few months shy of his 68th birthday and his 45th wedding anniversary. He
is terribly missed, not only by his family, but by colleagues and friends
at Princeton Seminary and throughout the church.
The Seminary’s memorial service for him was a stirring witness to the hope
we share in the One who is “the first fruits of those who have died.” (I
Cor. 15:20) Within the context of that hope, Bob Jacks’s life and teaching
were evoked and gratitude was expressed in prayer, in the words of the
Book of Common Worship, for “the goodness and truth that have passed from
his life into the lives of others, and have made the world richer for his
presence.” The service climaxed with the singing of “Shall We Gather at
the River,” recorded more than two decades ago, featuring the Jacks’ then
eight-year-old son, Stephen, and Bob himself, whose voice, at that time,
ranged over four octaves, always true in pitch, rich in timbre, pure in
line, and impeccable in phrasing. Following a modulation at the organ by
Martin Tel, PTS’s director of music, the congregation joined in the hymn.
Princeton seminarians have twice performed Olov Hartman’s Counterpoint under Bob Jacks’s direction—in 1971 and in 1999 (above).
Bob Jacks was born and reared in Indianapolis, Indiana. His wife, Rosanne,
was born a year later in the same hospital. Bob’s parents saw to it that
he was properly nurtured in the church. They both were active in Sunday
school classes and attended worship regularly. Their son Bob did the same.
When Bob was eight years old he suffered a ruptured appendix. Peritonitis
set in rapidly and he was very sick. His minister provided blood for the
needed transfusion, and Bob never forgot this critical act of kindness.
Whether it directly influenced him in his decision to pursue a seminary
education and seek ordination is not clear. However, according to those
who knew him best, he never seriously considered any other vocation. His
love of Christ Jesus and of the church developed early and never waned.
That love was deep and passionate, rooted in the passion of Christ
himself, and made patent in a practice of piety that remained remarkably
constant throughout Bob’s ministry and teaching.
Other influences of his home and church are worth recollection. He was
especially close to his maternal grandparents, Thomas and Alma Neale, and
it was to honor them that he and Rosanne established and funded the prize
in speech communication and evangelism given annually to a Princeton
Seminary graduating senior or seniors. Alma, a Swedish immigrant, was in
part the inspiration behind Bob’s decision to study Swedish until he
became fluent (which he accomplished during his doctoral study at Columbia
University through private tutoring by two Swedish women living in
Princeton at the time). The Bible in Swedish became central to Bob’s
devotional practice and to his oral interpretation of Scripture.
His early attraction to Princeton as the inevitable place of his formative
theological education came about through friendship with the young pastor
of Tabernacle Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, James Emerson. Emerson
remained for Bob a role model for ministry all his life. Bob came to
regard his students in many ways as congregants, deserving not only the
technical and theoretical training he could provide, but also his pastoral
solicitude. This he gave willingly, even as, in later years, he struggled
to keep his body as fit for ministry as were his intellect and spirit.
From his earliest days music surrounded Bob Jacks. His father had a band.
His brother was and still is musical. His cousins—all of whom attended the
same high school as Bob did—were musical. In his public school days, Bob
wrote musicals, sang in the “starlight musicals” on the campus of Butler
University, and studied voice and piano privately. By the time he entered
his first year of college at the University of Indiana, he was an
Because the University of Indiana seemed too large and impersonal,
unsuited to his temperament, Bob transferred to DePauw University, where
he studied English, philosophy, and church music and from which he
graduated in 1956. DePauw was good for him. It gave him his wife and soul
mate for life, Rosanne Miller, and friends who across the years shared his
love for the arts, among them Max and Jean Stackhouse (Max teaches on the
PTS faculty and Jean at Westminster Choir College) and Joseph Flummerfelt
(artistic director of Westminster Choir College’s Westminster Choir).
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