Robert J. Phares died today, May 21, 2018, of natural causes, surrounded by his loving wife, Gail Sharon Phares, daughters Rebecca Phares and Lisa (Phares) Outterson and David Outterson, his son-in-law. He was a father, grandfather, husband, and federal worker extraordinaire. He provided kind but honest advice to his family and to many prisoners he visited throughout the past decades. Supporting the closure of the School of Americas and working with that organization as a volunteer was one of his proudest accomplishments. None of us who knew him will forget his smile, quick wit or caring manner.
Robert (known to friends as Bob) was born in Moline, Illinois on August 8, 1943 to Lawrence and Dorothy Phares. He did not enter the world alone, but alongside his identical twin, William (Bill). He had a lovely childhood and his sisters, Mary Kay (Phares) Lee and Margaret (Phares) Lenhart, were two of his very favorite people. They grew up on 13th Street with a passel of other children. Their childhood was marked by parades and play, and, as they were devoted Roman Catholics, frequent religious observance and the kind guidance of Catholic sisters throughout their education. Their father was an elected juvenile court judge in Illinois and the whole family worked on his campaigns. Bob and Bill were featured on local television because they were adorable identical twins, then known as Bobby and Billy.
Upon Graduation from Aleman High School he and his brother Bill both Graduated from the University of Illinois and Bob received a law degree from the University as well and then entered the Naval Academy to become a Naval Officer. When he left the service, Bob considered moving to Illinois but thought it would be a bit confusing to have identical twin lawyers practicing in the same town (Bill had become a lawyer as well) so he decided to set out for Washington, DC, first living with Bob Klingdale in Baltimore and occasionally enjoying a juicy steak together even while job hunting as “We had to keep the morale up.”
Eventually Bob landed a job working for the Veterans Adm. and for the Federal Government, who was his employer until his death. A job with the Coal Mine Health and Safety Administration meant putting on a miner’s hat and working to learn about coal mines and how to make them safer.
He was beloved by many at the Raleigh Social Security Office of Hearings and Appeals where he worked as an Administrative Law Judge for thirty-seven years. When asked what his job was he would reply, “I’m a federal employee,” rather than letting people know that the word Judge was in his title. He so valued his relationships with colleagues that he preferred keeping the friendships of his colleagues rather than taking on the Head Judge position which would have meant inevitable conflict.
Bob married Gail (Jerome) Phares in 1972 and was deeply committed to her throughout their 46 year marriage. As her career blossomed he encouraged her to travel throughout the country and world as she advocated for peace in justice in Nicaragua and then throughout the region of Latin America and especially for the rights of immigrants in North Carolina. Feminism was a core value for him, and part of how he expressed is was in supporting his wife’s and then his daughter’s careers. He bought the first issue of Ms. Magazine and proudly passed it on to his daughter.
Through AIDS ministry as part of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, he was a servant leader, ferrying patients with AIDs to doctor’s appointments in a time when they were often shunned by their own families. This was part of his lifelong devotion to ministry inspired by the Roman Catholic faith instilled in him by Dorothy and Lawrence Phares.
During middle age he took on additional responsibilities, supporting first those imprisoned because of protesting the School of Americas Watch and then others in the community. He valued the friendships made and victories won in this effort, especially as more attention was brought to the genocide in Guatemala.
As dear friend Jeff Boyer wrote: “Bob was a quiet, caring, observant, competent and intellectually sharp human being. He loved Gail, his daughters, and was the best grandfather in the world. What a wonderful photographer of people and nature! ….Bob was also an excellent federal judge and did all he could to achieve justice through social security law. One of his ongoing activities was to help find legal documentation to bring particular Guatemalan genocidal military officers to justice.”
In his final years, his greatest passion was caring for and playing with his grandchildren, Isabella and Kayla (daughters of Lisa and David Outterson of Chapel Hill) and Joel and Maura (children of Rebecca Phares and Tina Hodges of Washington, DC). He loved to get down on the floor and play with them, read to them, hear stories of their antics, talk with them on the phone and hear about their accomplishments and dreams.
He also loved researching his family’s ancestry, ferreting out the details of the Watergate scandal, hosting raucous dinner parties, and planning family reunions and other vacations.
He will be greatly missed by all who knew him.
He is survived by wife Gail Sharon (Jerome) Phares, daughters Lisa (Phares) Outterson and their spouses. Grandchildren Kayla, Joel, Isabella and Maura, brother William Phares and sisters Kay Lee and Margaret Lenhart and many beloved nieces and nephews.
He was predeceased by parents Lawrence Phares and Dorothy (Nibert) Phares.