Bob Abernethy Dies at 93; NBC Veteran Coaxed PBS to Focus on Religion

The series covered a wide range of topics, including atheism, abortion, assisted suicide, sexual abuse by clergy and organ transplants.

“Finding this line between sensitivity to the spiritual dimensions of a story on the one hand and objective, traditional skepticism is a constant struggle and a very appropriate one, but I think we’ve got it right,” Mr. Abernethy told The Washington Post in 2000. “This is a matter of good reporting. Unless you get the spiritual element of the story, you’re missing something very important. It’s like interviewing Babe Ruth and not asking about hitting.”

When “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” was approaching the end of its run, Jerome Socolovsky, the editor in chief of Religion News Service, was rueful, telling the news service Current in 2016, “The media landscape will miss this crucial provider of video stories about religion that didn’t favor one or the other but gave viewers a full perspective on religious news developments.”

Robert Gordon Abernethy was born on Nov. 5, 1927, in Geneva to Robert and Lois May (Jones) Abernethy. His father worked for the Y.M.C.A.’s international newspaper. After Bob was born, the couple returned to the United States. His father began to teach religion at the Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., but died of complications of appendicitis in 1930.

Bob and his mother moved in with his paternal grandparents in Washington, where his grandfather was senior minister of Calvary Baptist Church. She taught piano at the National Cathedral School.

After graduating from the Hill School, he enrolled in Princeton University but interrupted his studies to serve with the American occupying Army in postwar Japan, where he hosted a program for Armed Forces Radio. Returning to college, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from what is now the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.

Coming from a family of pastors, he felt “a certain amount of pressure on me to become a minister, too,” he told the website Resources for Christianity in 2013, “but I never heard a call.”


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