Robert Estill, Retired Bishop of North Carolina, Dies at 92

The Rt. Rev. Robert Estill, IX Bishop of North Carolina, passed away October 9 at the age of 92, the Diocese of North Carolina announced.

Bishop Estill, a native of Kentucky, earned several degrees at the University of Kentucky, Episcopal Divinity School and Sewanee, the University of the South. After a decade as a parish priest in Kentucky, he served as a rector in Washington D.C. and Dallas, and as a faculty member at Virginia Theological Seminary, before being elected bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of North Carolina in 1980.

He succeeded the Rt. Rev. Thomas Fraser as the IX Bishop of North Carolina on January 27, 1983, when he was consecrated by the Most Rev. John M. Allin. He retired in 1994.

The Rt. Rev. Sam Rodman, current bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina, said Bishop Estill “was a man of character who also had a gift for caricature. His cartoons captured the human foibles we all share, as well as a delight in the ways we live and love imperfectly, as agents of God’s grace.” Bishop Estill demonstrated his cartooning skills in two books: Round the World, a 2015 account of his travels, and The Sun Shines Bright, a 2017 memoir.

He was “an early and often lonely voice in support of women in lay and ordained ministry,” said Bishop Suffragan Anne Hodges-Copple. “He licensed my mother to be a lay chalice bearer at the Episcopal School of Dallas, a bold move in the early eighties that caused some to resign from the board of trustees. I chose to do my discernment process in the Diocese of North Carolina because I knew under Bishop Estill’s leadership I could just be my full and honest self without needing to defend women’s equality in general.”

“There was a graciousness to him that made one feel as though there was room to be yourself in his presence, a generous spirit that always left me feeling more sure of God’s love,” Bishop Rodman said.

Bishop Estill is survived by his wife of 69 years, Joyce, and by their three children, six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. There will be a celebration of his life and legacy on Saturday, October 19, at 11 a.m. at Christ Church, 120 East Edenton Street in Raleigh, NC, the diocese said.

Kirk Petersen


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