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Taking care of details
Dick Schori supports wife’s work, seeks ministry ‘passion’ of his own


9/1/2006

Max Pohjanpelto
Within a month of his wife’s election, Dick Schori was high in a tree, trimming branches. "It was not as dangerous as it may look" said Schori, a trained technical rock climber.   (Max Pohjanpelto)
Dick Schori is a passionate man.

“I’ve had a variety of passions in my life, several to do with sports activities,” says the spouse of Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori. “I had a real passion for solar energy in the ‘70s. ... I was a passionate [rock] climber for over 15 years.”

He recognizes a similar quality in Phoebe Griswold, wife of retiring Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold. At a bishops’ spouses reception following his wife’s election, Schori told the group, “One of the things about Phoebe was, she showed a real passion for her activities.”

In the years after her husband’s election, Phoebe Griswold dedicated herself to the spouses’ group, to relief and development projects and to launching the Episcopal Church in the Visual Arts. Speaking a couple of days after his wife’s election, Schori said it was too early to tell where he’d direct his efforts in the next nine years.

“I like to have passions for things. I’m hoping to have a passion,” he says, adding, “I don’t think Phoebe started off with all these things in mind. I think she kind of grew into them.” Whatever Schori does, he’ll break new ground as the husband of the first female Anglican primate.

Being outnumbered doesn’t worry Schori, who grew up with three sisters, two much younger brothers and a large, close extended family. “I grew up with a lot of women, so I can deal with being with a lot of women. That helps me in the [bishops’] spouse group. I’m not overwhelmed with them.”

Male clergy spouses, he says, “can pretty much write our own ticket in terms of expectations. We can do either nothing or a lot, and it’s okay. I’ve taken very much the active role.” Employing a long-time hobby, Schori uses his photography and web-based skills to publish pictures on various church websites, including the Diocese of Nevada’s. A retired research mathematician, he still teaches an online calculus course but says he’s content to support his wife’s career.

“For the first 21 years of our marriage, she followed me. I’m a lot older than she is, so I’m happy to retire and do these things,” says Schori, 67.

At General Convention, that sometimes meant something as basic as bringing her coffee. At home, he pays all the bills. “In general, I take care of details,” he says. “I’m very supportive of all of her activities.”

He anticipates accompanying Jefferts Schori on some of her travels as presiding bishop. “I’ve traveled quite a bit,” he says. A highlight of his career -- a National Academy of Science lecture tour to Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia in 1974 -- came after he solved a longstanding mathematical problem after working on it for seven years. The mathematical breakthrough also led to an early promotion to full professor and department chairman.

“I enjoy trying to understand different cultures,” says Schori, who’s visited Mexico and Central America as well as Europe. “I think this is very important for world peace. I think we’ve had massive demonstrations of that in Iraq on the negative side, not understanding cultures.”

Traveling as the presiding bishop’s spouse, he says, “I could see some potential sociological issues in traveling to countries where the tradition is women being subservient.” He can imagine males in such cultures looking down upon him “because my spouse was the leader.”

“I have enough personal confidence in myself that I’m not afraid of dealing with that,” he says. Nonetheless, it’s not a role he imagined when he was chair of the Oregon State University mathematics department and met Jefferts Schori, then a graduate student in oceanography, at a stewardship dinner at Good Samaritan Church in Corvallis, Ore. Neither had any idea “that she would go in this direction,” he says.

“I’ve had a very long background in the Episcopal Church,” notes the self-described extrovert. “A lot of my church experiences over my life have been more in the community aspect of churches. ... I have a significant spiritual life. It probably used to be exercised more in the mountains and outdoors and so forth.”

Concerned about energy conservation, Schori drives a Prius hybrid and says he’s interested in “sustainable use in all aspects of living.” He helped launch the solar energy program at Louisiana State University, where he taught before moving to Oregon, and investigated using solar energy in Nevada after his wife was elected bishop there. He also did his own landscaping in Nevada, including installing drip irrigation and low-voltage yard lighting. “I’m a do-it-yourself guy,” he says.

He likes activities that use the mind and body. Rock climbing, for example, is “a whole body activity,” requiring both problem solving and physical coordination. Recently, he used his climbing equipment and techniques to scale a friend’s tree to remove branches about 40 feet up.

“My family was aghast. I said, `Look, I was solid as a rock up there,’“he recounts. “I had a ball. It was terrific. I was wonderfully focused on what I was doing.”