Rev. Robert Edgar, the former leader of the National Council of Churches, died suddenly of a heart attack Tuesday. He was 69.
As a congressman, chaplain, and organizational leader, Edgar was known for his commitment to political transparency, his skills in financial management, and his willingness to advocate for society’s marginalized.
After college and divinity school, Edgar served as a chaplain at Drexel University and as pastor of a Methodist church in Lansdowne, Pa. While there, he helped open Philadelphia’s first shelter for homeless women.
He left the pastorate to pursue politics, ultimately serving 12 years in Congress from 1974 to 1986. During his time in Washington, he focused on increasing governmental transparency and fighting what he perceived to be wasteful public work campaigns.
After an unsuccessful senatorial campaign in 1986, he served as president of Claremont School of Theology in Los Angeles, Calif. According to The New York Times, he helped the school increase its ethnic diversity and also revitalized it financially, increasing its endowment from $5.5 million to $22 million.
He brought that financial prowess to the National Council of Churches (NCC) in 2000, just as the organization faced bankruptcy. Through tough budget cuts and restructuring, he rescued the organization from a $6.4 million deficit.
His time at NCC was also marked by denominational tension, given his push towards social programs, interfaith understanding, and his support for same-sex marriage. According to Religions News Service, he also came under criticism from conservative groups for allegedly accepting funding from liberal philanthropists.
He left the NCC in 2007 to begin work as the president and CEO of Common Cause, a liberal, non-partisan non-profit that advocates for political transparency.
“We are deeply saddened and shaken today by the passing of Bob Edgar,” said Common Cause Board Chair Robert Reichin in a statement. “Bob will be remembered for his decency, kindness, compassion and humor.”
Edgar died in his home while walking on a treadmill. He is survived by his wife of 48 years, Merle Deaver, three sons and eight grandchildren.