The Rev. Robert Higginbotham confronted pain and challenges as his life drew to a close, sustained by the faith that he had served throughout a distinguished career as a Methodist clergyman.
Rev. Higginbotham died of cancer Sunday. He was 63. In the previous months, he had experienced the death of his mother-in-law, borne the news that his son Robert had been killed in a car crash, witnessed his wife's ongoing struggle with cancer, and faced the recurrence of the melanoma he had been treated for over the last four years.
Colleagues said that throughout those trials he displayed serenity, humor and unflagging attention to his duties as a longtime assistant to the Rev. Thomas Bickerton, bishop of the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church.
"In the midst of all those significant struggles, Bob coined a phrase, 'I'm going the distance,' " Bishop Bickerton recalled. "Bob was determined; his faith was not going to waver. He continued to go the distance right up until the very end.''
Another colleague, the Rev. Donald Green of the Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, said in a statement that Rev. Higginbotham "represented Methodism and the WPA's Conference with the warmth of friendship, grace and a non-anxious presence in the midst of controversy, and a sharp intellect in theological dialogue."
"Throughout his and his wife's illnesses, and more recently with his son's tragic death, he faced the future and his own mortality with confident faith,'' he added.
"He worked for me for 10 years. ... He gave heart and soul to his church. A tremendous number of people in this region would say this is a better place because of Bob Higginbotham,'' Bishop Bickerton said.
"I always called Bob the one who dotted all my 'i's and crossed my 't's; he was a meticulous person,'' he added. "He had a dry sense of humor and infectious laugh. He was not loud or verbose, but he just engaged people with his humor."
Referring to the challenges of his last year, Bishop Bickerton said, "It was an unbelievably difficult run, yet in the midst of it all, he was extremely diligent and diligent about his faith journey.''
Rev. Higgenbotham was also a sports enthusiast, enjoying distance running and officiating at high school soccer and swimming.
Rev. Higginbotham was born in Fayette County and raised in Beaver County, graduating from Freedom Area High School. He earned an undergraduate degree in religion and philosophy at Alderson Broaddus University and a master's degree in divinity from the Methodist Theological School in Ohio.
He is survived by his wife of more than four decades, D. Ruth McDowell; their daughter, Rebecca Gillam; his father, Robert W. Higginbotham Sr.; a brother, Gary Higginbotham, and a sister, Kathy May; and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Oct. 19 at 3 p.m. in the Dutilh United Methodist Church, 1270 Dutilh Road, Cranberry.