Remembering Bob Edgar and his impact

Editor's note: The Rev. Bob Edgar, executive director of Common Cause and a longtime United Methodist pastor and leader, died April 23. The top executive of United Methodist Communications offers this tribute.

I first met Bob Edgar when he was a member of Congress from Pennsylvania. I was participating in an advocacy effort for what was then called foreign assistance. A drought was ravaging Ethiopia at the time, and the need for food assistance and medications was overwhelming.

To my great surprise, Bob was even more aggressive than I could have hoped as a voice for the poor and in his desire for humanitarian aid. His response to me was stronger than my speech to him!

His colleagues at Common Cause reminded me that during his six terms in the U.S. House he led efforts to improve public transportation, fought wasteful water projects and authored the Community Right to Know provision of the Superfund legislation. He served on the Veterans Affairs Committee, working on issues around Agent Orange and readjustment counseling to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

Flash forward a decade to the 1990s, and Bob and I found ourselves serving together as members of the General Commission on Communication of The United Methodist Church. He was an ordained elder in the church. An energetic member of the commission, he was always suggesting new ways of doing things, eager for the church to strengthen its public voice about important humanitarian issues. He always had a series of jokes to put people at ease before he spoke to them of hard things such as poverty, injustice and economic inequality.

When he went to the position of general secretary of the National Council of Churches, he continued this energetic role as an advocate for change. He told me about an effort he conceived to provide information to disadvantaged people who qualified for various assistance programs but didn't know about them, and, therefore, didn't know how to apply for them.

He secured funding and created a state-based system for education and referrals for vulnerable people to enable them to seek helpful services. His concern was that these services funded through the federal budget went unclaimed for lack of awareness. He was a tireless champion for vulnerable people who lacked a voice and influence.

Through his ministry, legislation and public witness, Bob's legacy will continue. But his voice will be sorely missed. My condolences are with his family and colleagues. His life and work are a gift to us all.

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