Robin Whitlock '68

Philosophy and Religion

Growing up, Robin Whitlock ’68 was considered a “shy child,” so having a small liberal arts campus close to home made MacMurray College a perfect fit. “My sister graduated from Mac and it was small enough and manageable for a shy guy like me,” Whitlock recalls. “And it was an easy drive from Rockford (Illinois) where I grew up.”

Whitlock arrived at MacMurray in 1964 and at that time the College required a core humanities curriculum designed to give students a well-rounded education – a staple of the liberal arts. This proved invaluable to Whitlock as he followed up with graduate education through seminary and into the world beyond.

“The exposure to the liberal arts added up to me understanding a lot of things well, examining them and being able to teach about them,” Whitlock said. “MacMurray taught us the micro view of being human as well as the impact on others. Because of MacMurray, I have accomplished things I would have never thought I would do.”

And what he thought he was going to do when he first got to Mac, turned out to be, as he learned, a mistake. “What was fascinating for me in high school was that I loved labs, and especially biology, so when Mac asked me to declare a major, I chose pre-med,” Whitlock said. Later he noticed pre-med students around campus carrying a dead cat in a plastic bag. “They had to dissect cats, and identify every nerve, muscle, and every artery and vein in this cat,” Whitlock said. “You really had to memorize a lot and memory had never been my strength. So, the reality of it all hit.”

Whitlock went back to the course catalog and wanted to find an academic program which would allow him to take a good number of classes in the humanities, which he had always enjoyed. He found a major more suited for his interests: philosophy and religion.

“I signed up for philosophy and religion before the first year was over, and I discovered I can more easily remember things if they are in context and there is a rational, analytical reason for them to be what they are,” Whitlock said. “The major of philosophy and religion was perfect for me in a lot of ways.”

To this day, Whitlock finds he still quotes from textbooks he had as a student as well as words he heard at some of the Chapel presentations. “We had a variety of books that really made the right connections,” Whitlock said. “I didn’t know at the time why some of those professors chose those books, but I later found they were pretty smart about it.”

As he was studying at Mac, Whitlock was also attending Trinity Episcopal Church in Jacksonville. “I formed a great friendship with the Rector, Reginald Harris,” Whitlock said. “I was an acolyte at home and soon became one at Trinity and, later, the church actually ended up sponsoring me to seminary.”

After graduating from MacMurray, Whitlock drove to Berkeley, California, to attend seminary at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. “When I got to graduate school at Berkeley, I expected to learn from some really wise sages but, just sitting with others at meals talking philosophy, I found most of my classmates were two years behind me academically,” Whitlock said. “That was because of the outstanding formative education at MacMurray. We covered history, we covered art, music and great literature. Mac gave me a broad education that has, to this day, been helpful in my preaching, teaching, and just being able to talk with people.”

With the seminary not being exactly what Whitlock was expecting, or as challenging, he was questioning his vocation. “After two years, I met with a volunteer psychiatrist who was associated with the seminary for counseling. He asked me if I ever thought about taking a year off and doing something else.”

Whitlock loved the idea. He was feeling conflicted about his career path and told the psychiatrist that he wouldn’t mind spending a year in England studying Church History. “Looking back, that was a little crazy for a kid from the Midwest. But it was perfect.”

After getting permission, he packed-up and moved to England for a year. “I studied Church History and Ethics at Kings College, University of London,” Whitlock said. “Ethics became my favored topic because I already had an excellent foundation at MacMurray.”

The time away was just what was needed and confirmed the original commitment, a journey enhanced by the wonderful diversity at Mac. Once Whitlock got back from England, he finished his final year of seminary and started work as a curate in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

After several years working within a church environment in Wisconsin and then at a church in Tennessee as well as a Chaplin at a university, Whitlock pivoted back to a topic that had always been important to him – professional ethics. This led him to accept a position teaching in a medical school.

“I ended up spending 12 years at the University of Maryland School of Medicine teaching medical ethics.” Whitlock, who also was the Episcopal Chaplain at the campus, said, “Simply put, ethics is prioritizing those things which require us to behave in certain ways. For example, if you are a physician, you have explicit and some implicit requirements for the way you treat patients, for the way you treat information. Many professions have ethics codes.”

In between the church positions and academic appointments, Whitlock started his own photography business. “I was interested in photography during high school and I thought I could make a living while waiting to get my next job. The exposure to art at Mac helped me take my hobby of photography to a new level as a professional.”

Whitlock had the good fortune of going out west in the winter of 1976 to study photography at an Ansel Adams workshop, “which was really terrific,” he said. This skill helped him survive since he was able to do professional photography, not only industrial and landscape photography under his own company, but he also worked at a newspaper for a while in Johnson City, Tennessee. “It was a wonderful job,” Whitlock said. “I was able to use my creativity that was enhanced by my MacMurray education.”

After leaving Maryland, Whitlock spent time studying at Loyola of Chicago before teaching ethics at The Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans and later at The Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine in Baton Rouge.

Today, Whitlock is actively retired and spends his time between Michigan and Florida. From 2005- 2017, he was the priest in charge at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in St. Petersburg, Florida, and still calls that area home. In retirement, he and his wife, Ann, focus much of their time on their small non-profit, The Spafford Foundation, which mainly focuses on supporting children’s health and education, especially for the overseas, under-served.

“I’ve done a lot of teaching and a lot of learning and I’ve been able to adapt to different settings, and it is primarily because my years at MacMurray taught me to understand the big picture about society and human interactions, and how to search for solid foundations and principles in our behavior and our choices” Whitlock said.

“This, in short, is what I was able to learn at Mac.”

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