A True Renaissance Man: Remembering the Life of Robert M. Zamora

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Published:
December 31, 2018

Editor’s Note: Robert M. Zamora passed away earlier this year, on June 11, 2018. A short biography, provided by his daughter Xandra Y. Zamora, and excerpts from the eulogy given by his friend and colleague James J. Londis, both follow below.

Life Sketch of Robert M. Zamora

Robert M. Zamora was a Minister, Professor of Theology, Philosophy and Ethics, Author of fiction and non-fiction, Creator and Maker, Fixer of Broken Things (including hearts & souls), and he was a true Renaissance Man. Never afraid of hard work, or the challenge of trying to do new things in which he found interest, he taught himself French and German, how to play classical guitar, and then restored and refinished one for himself. He enjoyed foreign travel, photography, and accomplished various remodeling projects on several of his homes. A voracious reader, as evidenced by his tremendous personal theological and philosophical library, he was always learning and improving his mind. And although he was an intellectual man he had a light spirit and loved to laugh. He delighted in cooking, and especially preparing meals or gifts of food, with which he would share with family and friends.

Dr. Zamora was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the fourth son of Rita and Eleno Zamora. They, and his brothers Lee, Leonard, and Bill, have preceded him in death.

His elementary and some high school years were spent in Albuquerque schools. Then, upon finding the Lord, he discovered his life’s purpose, and continued his secondary education at Spanish American Seminary. It was during this time that he was selected to be the first Spanish-American to attend the Paris Youth Congress.

The first of his college years were spent at Keene College and Washington Missionary College. His studies were interrupted when his country invited him to serve during the Korean Conflict, and he was trained with the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, before serving as a Medic at Le Havre, France.

Upon completion of his military service, he continued collegiate studies at La Sierra College, where he received a B.A. in ministerial studies. At once he was asked to teach at his alma mater, but he wanted to be a pastor, and proceeded to pastor at Glendale, Burbank, and La Mirada Churches, in Southern California, before moving to the Washington, D.C. area, and pastoring at the Atholton, and Hyattsville churches, respectively.

Then, after a brief taste of teaching during one summer, he accepted a position at Takoma Academy for a year, before taking the post of Associate Professor at Columbia Union College (CUC), now Washington Adventist University, in Takoma Park, Maryland. It was during this period of time that he earned a Master of Arts degree from The George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.

During his tenure at CUC, he became the liaison professor at Newbold College in England, living in that country for a total of four years, after which he was appointed Professor and Chairman of the Department of Religion. Whilst in England, he began a PhD in Pauline Studies, at King’s College London, ultimately transferring to Howard University, where he graduated with distinction.

“Elder Z,” as his students fondly called him, had a great love of teaching, and also mentoring those who were preparing to be ministers. He truly enjoyed the students and often invited them to his home for theological and philosophical discussions. Over the years, he would happen to meet some of his students at various events, and they excitedly shared with him how their experience in his class led them to a better life, and that they continued to share his message with others.

After sixteen years in education, he moved to California and accepted the call to be Senior Pastor at the Mountain View Central church, where he ministered for five years, before being asked to serve as Ministerial Director of the Central California Conference.

The desire to minister once again drew him to the White Memorial Church, in the heart of Los Angeles, where he was Senior Pastor for ten years. During this time, Dr. Zamora’s ministry went even further than pastoring. For nine years he produced and hosted the weekly broadcasts, “Search” and “Encounter” on KFSG 96.3 FM, in which he reached out to the millions of people in the greater Los Angeles area.

He cherished his family who survives him. His wife Donna (née Coyle), with whom he spent a happy 60 years, his daughter Xandra and her husband Mark, his son Stephen, and his grandson Christopher, whom he adored.

Joining his three brothers, he was laid to rest at the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

***

Excerpts from the Eulogy for Robert M. Zamora

Why some people quickly gift us with trust and affection is a mystery to me.

Robert (Bob) Zamora’s gift to me began 42 years ago when I became the senior pastor of the Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Takoma Park, Maryland. Situated on the campus of then Columbia Union College, this ministry included the college faculty and students, always a challenge. One year later, Bob arrived on campus as the new religion professor who had been teaching in England and studying for a graduate degree in the New Testament. Having a close relationship with this new faculty member was important to me, since we both had the student body as our spiritual and theological responsibility.

When I arrived for my initial appointment in his office, this shorter, bespectacled man greeted me with a wry grin on his face. He shared a short biography of his life, including his military service with the 101st Airborne Division during the Korean War. Deep roots in New Mexico growing up, along with his love of God and the gospel, impressed me. Very quickly, I realized that he would be an exceptional conversation partner on many of the issues I cared about. We realized that trusting each other would reap great rewards for us and the campus. As I was leaving, Bob said to me (that grin again): “I wondered what you’d be like,” hinting that he was a little concerned I could be a problem for him. We had no problem at all.

As a teacher and counselor his campus impact was immediate and profound. His grasp of the current New Testament scholarship made him a riveting lecturer. This, coupled with his unerring instincts for helping distressed people, made him invaluable to the Sligo community. One particular episode is illustrative. An unknown woman called him and cried out: “I’m in so much pain, I intend to kill myself. Looking through the phone book, I noticed your name as a pastor and felt impressed to call you. Can you convince me in two minutes that my life is worth living?”

Guided no doubt by the Holy Spirit, Bob elicited her promise not to do anything until they could meet face-to-face. She agreed and after visiting him several times, she acquired hope and a love of life. She even began attending his Sabbath School class and church. It’s the kind of change in a person’s life that gives the Gospel credibility. It does possess the power to change lives.

In another case (one comprised of significant help and an unexpected reward), Bob had been counseling with a troubled student from New York City for months when his father called and wanted to see him. A large, brusque businessman, Bob steeled himself for a tongue-lashing since the young man’s relationship with his father was the source of his distress. Instead, he praised Bob for all he was doing to help his son and “had” to come down from the city just to tell him that. He told Bob he wanted to do something nice for him in appreciation. “Do you like Broadway shows?” he asked. Taken aback at this offer, Bob called the only New Yorker he knew: me!

As it happened, we were heading to New York in a few weeks to attend the combined American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting. Bob asked me two questions: “How many tickets do we want” he asks, “and which show would we like?”

“Well, two for you and me and how about two more for colleagues?” I blurted out, and “let’s see ‘Annie’,” then making its debut on Broadway. In response, this father called to say: “Four tickets will be at the box office in your name. Make sure you go. These cost me a lot!”

So, as memory serves, Bob and I, along with Jim Cox and Bailey Gillespie, showed up at the box office and picked up the tickets. Unbelievable. When ushered to our seats, another shock: Front row center, close enough to almost touch the performers!

Bob turned to me and said: “What kind of a man can get these tickets at the last minute?” Someone with connections and money (or something more nefarious), I mused. Whatever. Hanging out with Bob was never boring.

Bob believed in God’s promises that the future is in divine hands, that our futures as individuals and the whole host of God’s servants will live again in a new heaven and a new earth in righteousness or justice. We will have bodies that cannot die and a joy that cannot fade. We will have no fear of a future pummeled by suffering and death. Like Edna St. Vincent Millay, he was not resigned to death. This poem was introduced to me at a funeral for Winona Winkler Wendth’s mother, a remarkable colleague of mine on the faculty at Atlantic Union College.

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the
love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not
approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the
world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned. 

—“Dirge without Music” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

The gospel according to John was one of Bob’s favorites. In the 5th chapter, Jesus says this to his detractors:

Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and…has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.

Another of his beloved writers was the Apostle Paul, who said in I Thessalonians:

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.

He will be profoundly missed by his wife Donna, his son Steven, his daughter Xandra, her husband Mark, his grandson Christopher and the many nephews and nieces who have cherished him as their spiritual counselor.

So, we say goodbye to Dr. Professor Robert Zamora, loved one and faithful friend, not crushed by the heavy grief of never seeing him again, but strengthened by the hopeful grief of seeing him again. A profound blessing to those who heard him preach and teach, he was a disciple who “fought the good fight, finished the course and kept the faith.”

No more honorific epitaph can be written for someone who loved Jesus Christ as Lord.

 

James Londis is a retired evangelist, pastor, professor, college president, and Ethics and Corporate Integrity officer.

Xandra Y. Zamora provides hand-lettering and design services through her website xyzink.com.

Image: Memorial program cover, courtesy of Xandra Y. Zamora. (Hand-lettering on the memorial program is from her hand-calligraphed typeface, to be released this January.)

 

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