Boothby, Robert Loren (1900–1981)

By Sabrina Riley

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Sabrina Riley was born in Auburn, New York and raised in Dowagiac, Michigan. She received a B.A. in history from Andrews University and an M.A. in information and libraries studies from the University of Michigan. Riley was a member of Andrews University’s library staff from 1998 to 2003, library director and college archivist at Union College from 2003 to 2016, and is presently a freelance researcher, author, and information professional.

 

First Published: October 2, 2023

Robert Boothby was an Adventist pastor and evangelist. His career as an evangelist was characterized by largescale public meetings, numerous baptisms, and the organization of new churches.

Early Life

Robert Loren Boothby was born on January 17, 1900, in Bangor, Michigan.1 Raised on a farm in Gobles, Michigan, his parents were Fred Loren Boothby (1877-1943) and Mary Jane Williams (1878-1954). Robert was the second of eight children, who included Lucie Alenia (1897-1943), Frederick Martin (1902-1976), Leroy Edward (1905-1956), Irene Marie (1907-1987), Paul Revere (1909-1967), Carl Frank (1912-1995), and Russell Everett (1916-1965). Frederick, Paul, and Carl all became physicians. Frederick was particularly well-respected for his forty years of service to the small town of Lawrence, Michigan, where in spite of obscurity, he was able to support the education of many young Adventist medical professionals.2 Fred’s father, Robert F. Boothby (1828-1905) immigrated from England in 1853, settled in Michigan, and joined the Adventist Church around 1902 or 1903.3 Originally adherents of the Baptist faith, Fred and Mary Jane joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1912. They were founding members of the Gobles, Michigan, congregation.4

Education and Family

Boothby graduated from the PawPaw, Michigan, high school in 1917.5 He enrolled at Emmanuel Missionary College where he completed a two-year ministerial degree in 1920.6

On September 27, 1923, Boothby married Naomi Gillett (1906-1974)7 in Kalamazoo, Michigan.8 The Boothbys had two sons. Robert Livingstone (1924-2011) became a physician. Orva Lee (1933-2014) became an attorney, noted for his work in religious liberty.9

Evangelist

Robert Boothby’s career began in the West Michigan Conference first as a colporteur in 191610 and then assisting with tent meetings in 1919.11 Following graduation from Emmanuel Missionary College, Boothby partnered with Grant W. Hosford for his first tent effort in Dowagiac, Michigan, where he organized a church on April 30, 1921.12 For the next five years, he was involved in evangelistic efforts throughout the West Michigan Conference, residing consecutively in the towns of Quincy, Three Rivers, Grand Ledge, and Charlotte.13 Boothby was ordained sometime in 1924.14

In 1925, Boothby was called to the Kansas Conference,15 where he conducted evangelism throughout the state between 1926 and 1931. His family settled in Topeka first, and then Wichita shortly before he left the conference. Boothby’s work in Kansas was successful from the beginning, garnering between 125 and 150 baptisms in the first year, as well as organizing a new church in Junction City, Kansas.16 Despite this success, or perhaps because of it, the General Conference asked him to replace Alonzo J. Wearner as superintendent of the Hupeh Mission in the Central China Union. Boothby was hesitant to accept the call. Both his wife and young son, Robert, Jr., suffered from asthma. Furthermore, he desired “to make a real success of the evangelistic work…in America.” He had “felt for some time that there are great possibilities among our own people.”17 The General Conference released Boothby from the call to China on the basis of an “unfavorable medical report.”18

In 1930 Boothby accepted a call to the Central California Conference, where his work focused on San Francisco, which resulted in 301 people making decisions to be baptized.19

Boothby was simultaneously called to the Southern California and West Pennsylvania conferences in 1936. He chose Pennsylvania.20

As the West Pennsylvania Conference evangelist for three years,21 Boothby’s efforts focused on Pittsburgh where he was expected to serve as church pastor and district leader while conducting evangelistic efforts in a large temporary “tabernacle” constructed of wood which seated thirty-five hundred people. It was a heavy load. Despite prejudice from the public engendered by a faith-healer who had recently left the city, Boothby managed to baptized two hundred converts during the first two years in Pittsburgh.22 His leadership focused on more than baptisms, however. He mentored congregational leaders, and his advice helped place local churches on a sound financial footing.23 Following the Pittsburgh meetings, the tent was moved to McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, Boothby was again approached about going overseas. He received a call to South Africa in 1937 to conduct city evangelism. Again, he was released from the call, this time without a reason stated.24

Partnering with Leslie Mansell, vocalist and song leader, from 1939 to 1946 Boothby’s evangelistic efforts expanded into other areas of the Columbia Union including Charleston, West Virginia;25 Cincinnati, Ohio; Wilmington, Delaware;26 Bluefield, West Virginia; and Washington, D.C. In Cincinnati, Ohio, during the winter and spring of 1940, in addition to preaching in the Emery Auditorium, Boothby broadcasted sermons eight times a week over radio station WCPO.27 In Wilmington, he continued the practice of daily radio broadcasts during the campaign. His use of radio in Bluefield led to a regular radio program, “Prophecy Speaks,” which was continued by subsequent ministers well into the 1950s.28

Boothby remained Columbia Union Conference evangelist until 1946, when he transitioned to the Potomac Conference. The Boothby family had moved to Takoma Park, Maryland, from Pittsburgh in 1939. They maintained their home here while Robert served the Potomac Conference as evangelist. However, with evangelistic campaigns in various cities lasting from three to six months, they were frequently away.

From September 1942 to September 1943, Boothby led a city-wide evangelistic campaign in Washington, DC. Constitution Hall and Continental Memorial Hall were both rented for twenty-five weeks, where he spoke to thousands. Following these meetings, Boothby moved to the Capital Memorial Church and later set up a tent in the southeast area of the city. Boothby’s preaching featured the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation as well as Adventist doctrines. He also continued to make use of radio broadcasting. Listeners were encouraged to enroll in the Twentieth-Century Bible Course. A team of Bible workers supported Boothby’s effort with home visitations.29

While work in Washington, D.C., including the radio broadcasts, continued into 1946, Boothby also started to appear more frequently at colporteur and ministerial meetings where he had opportunity to help train other ministers and Bible workers in evangelistic methods.30 In 1941, Boothby had been appointed to the General Conference Ministerial Association Advisory Council,31 of which he remained a member for the next thirteen years. Through the work of the council, he also had opportunity to mentor other ministers. Boothby’s approach to evangelism was characterized by intellectual appeals. In personal evangelism, although he underscored the need for prayer and the Holy Spirit’s influence on the heart, he likened the work of the evangelist to a doctor making a diagnosis. Accordingly, he placed prospective converts into categories and suggested biblical arguments that would appeal to each type.32

Following the campaigns in Washington, D.C., Boothby next conducted meetings elsewhere in the Potomac Conference, including Richmond, Lynchburg, and Norfolk, Virginia. Boothby remained Potomac Conference evangelist until 1952; however, from time to time he was invited to conduct shorter evangelistic series in other conferences. In the summer of 1949, he returned to his home region of Southwestern Michigan, where he led a three-month campaign in Lawrence.33 This particular effort, funded by Robert’s brother, Fred, was the fulfillment of the evangelist’s own dream to share the Adventist message with extended family and former neighbors. The result of the meetings was sixty-nine baptisms adding members to seven congregations in the area, including a new congregation in Lawrence itself.34

In 1950, Boothby expanded his outreach methods to television. Offered airtime on Sunday evenings at 9 p.m. on Channel 7 (WMAL-TV) in Washington, D.C., beginning Sunday, November 5, he called the program “Heralds of Hope.” Utilizing “talent” from Washington Missionary College, the program was billed as Washington’s only televised church service. Its reach extended to Baltimore, Maryland; Waynesboro, Pennsylvania; Martinsburg, West Virginia; and south into Virginia. Listeners could call to order literature. “The Twentieth Century Bible Course was sent to one hundred and thirty-three names as a result of the first telecast.”35

Although throughout his career he had rejected permanent calls to international regions, in early 1952 Boothby did visit Jamaica where he led a team in an evangelistic campaign in Kingston. This effort resulted in 263 people being baptized and Bible workers were still visiting three thousand more interested individuals after he left.36

Pastor

During his last five years in the Potomac Conference, Boothby was pastor of the Capital Memorial Church in Washington, D.C., in addition to his evangelistic efforts. Following, the meetings in Kingston, Jamaica, the Boothby’s moved to Detroit, Michigan. Here, Robert Boothby became pastor-evangelist of the Grand River Avenue church in 1952.37 He was also district leader for the West Detroit area and became more involved in administrative activities in the Michigan Conference. Boothby continued to be a popular guest speaker for camp meetings, revival meetings, and other events across Michigan. Although smaller in scale than his previous campaigns, soul-winning continued to be the focus of his ministry, and he regularly reported baptizing more people during his years in Detroit. The culmination of his work in Detroit was the dedication of the Detroit Metropolitan church on November 23, 1957.38

Evangelist Again

In 1957, Boothby became the Michigan Conference evangelist. The Boothbys moved to Berrien Springs, Michigan, where they established a permanent residence. As Michigan Conference evangelist, his first large campaign was held in St. Joseph and Benton Harbor, Michigan, in the large Shadowland Ballroom, which seated fifteen hundred people. Faculty and staff from Emmanuel Missionary College provided music.39

Subsequent efforts included Kalamazoo, Lansing, and Holly in Michigan. Although officially the Michigan Conference evangelist, Boothby went where he was invited, including Saint Louis, Missouri, where L. R. Mansell was now pastor.40 Boothby also returned to various districts in the Columbia Union to lead evangelistic meetings or to speak at church workers’ meetings several times in the 1960s. By the late 1960s, even in Michigan his role was reduced to a mentor and teacher to younger pastors who were doing more of the preaching.

Boothby published only one book, Man’s Only Hope.41 He also taught a few classes at the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary after it relocated to Berrien Springs, Michigan in 1960.42

Later Life

Robert Boothby retired in 1971.43 The Boothby’s continued to live in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Boothby died June 13, 1981, in Niles, Michigan.

Legacy

“In 1971 he was honored by the alumni association of Andrews University as an evangelist who had baptized more than 15,000 people in his half century of ministry.”44 He was credited with conducting evangelistic campaigns in fourteen conferences.45

Sources

“Adventists’ Elder Boothby Dead at 81.” Benton Harbor Herald-Palladium, June 15, 1981.

Blosser, J. B. “The Work in West Michigan.” Lake Union Herald, January 3, 1917.

Boothby, Robert L. “How to Get Decisions.” Columbia Union Visitor, October 11, 1945.

Boothby, Robert L. Man's Only Hope. Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1949.

Boothby, R. L. “Telecast From Nation’s Capital.” Columbia Union Visitor, November 23, 1950.

Boothby, Robert L. “Washington Television Program.” Columbia Union Visitor, October 26, 1950.

Burbank, Howard “Detroit Metropolitan Dedication.” Lake Union Herald, December 24, 1957.

Campbell, M. N. “Robert Boothby obituary,” West Michigan Herald, January 3, 1906.

Colburn, H. D. “Evangelistic Crusade Big Success.” British West Indies Visitor,” April 1952.

Detwiler, H. J. “A Hearty Welcome.” Columbia Union Visitor, September 22, 1949.

Detwiler, H. J. “Washington Evangelistic Effort.” Columbia Union Visitor, December 23, 1943.

Edwards, J. Ernest. “Lay Preachers’ Institute.” Columbia Union Visitor, November 2, 1944.

“Farewell.” Columbia Union Visitor, February 14, 1952.

General Conference Committee. General Conference Archives. Accessed August 6, 2023. https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC.

Goodwin, G. L. “The Message by Radio.” Columbia Union Visitor, February 4, 1954.

Hunter, D. W. “Michigan Conference Re-elects Officers.” Lake Union Herald, May 13, 1971.

Juberg, Morten. “Boothby Evangelistic Crusade.” Lake Union Herald, February 18, 1958.

King, L. H. “Pittsburgh Number One Church Burns Its Mortgage.” Columbia Union Visitor, February 19, 1942.

Mansell, L. R. “Charleston Tabernacle Report.” Columbia Union Visitor, June 1, 1939.

Mansell, L. R. “Presenting the Message in St. Louis.” Central Union Reaper, March 14, 1960.

“Naomi Boothby obituary.” ARH, June 27, 1974.

“Naomi Boothby obituary.” News-Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan), June 3, 1974.

“News Notes.” Lake Union Herald April 6, 1921.

“News Notes.” Lake Union Herald, May 10, 1949.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1921-1981.

Slade, E. K. “West Michigan Tent Efforts.” Lake Union Herald, July 16, 1919.

Wendth, Ernest. “He Last Six Months—Plus!” Lake Union Herald, August 11, 1970.

Willett, E. F. “Lawrence Church Organized.” Lake Union Herald, November 22, 1949.

Notes

  1. “Robert L. Boothby obituary,” ARH, August 13, 1981, 23.

  2. “Frederick M. Boothby obituary,” Lake Union Herald, September 7, 1976, 15.

  3. M. N. Campbell, “Robert Boothby obituary,” West Michigan Herald, January 3, 1906, 2.

  4. Ernest Wendth, “He Last Six Months—Plus!” Lake Union Herald, August 11, 1970, 2, 10-11.

  5. “Adventists’ Elder Boothy Dead at 81,” Benton Harbor Herald-Palladium, June 15, 1981, 8.

  6. “Official Graduation List,” Andrews University, accessed July 28, 2023, https://vault.andrews.edu/vault/app/gradlist/collect_list_of_graduates.

  7. “Naomi Boothby obituary,” News-Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan), June 3, 1974, 18; “Naomi Boothby obituary,” ARH, June 27, 1974, 32.

  8. Michigan Department of Community Health, Division of Vital Records and Health Statistics; Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan, Marriage Records, 1867-1952; Film: 171; Film Description: 1923 St Joseph-1923 Wayne. Accessed July 26, 2023, https://ancestry.com.

  9. “Lee Boothby,” Find a Grave, 2023, accessed August 6, 2023, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/140707997/lee-boothby.

  10. J. B. Blosser, “The Work in West Michigan,” Lake Union Herald, January 3, 1917, 13.

  11. E. K. Slade, “West Michigan Tent Efforts,” Lake Union Herald, July 16, 1919, 6.

  12. J. F. Piper, “Tent Companies,” Lake Union Herald, June 30, 1920, 6; “News Notes,” Lake Union Herald April 6, 1921, 15.

  13. See the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for the years 1921-1925.

  14. Compare “West Michigan Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1924), 47, and “West Michigan Conference,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1925), 51.

  15. General Conference Committee, April 20, 1925, 897, General Conference Archives, accessed August 6, 2023, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1925.pdf.

  16. “Items Gleaned from the Camp Meeting Minutes,” Central Union Outlook, September 21, 1926, 1.

  17. Robert L. Boothby to B. E. Beddoe, October 18, 1926, Robert L. Boothby Appointee File, General Conference Archives.

  18. General Conference Committee, October 26, 1926, 156, General Conference Archives, accessed August 6, 2023, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1926.pdf.

  19. General Conference Committee, December 15, 1930, 189, General Conference Archives, accessed August 6, 2023, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1930-12.pdf; C. V. Leach, “Evangelism in Chesapeake,” Columbia Union Visitor, January 2, 1942, 1-2.

  20. “Notes,” Pacific Union Recorder, September 9, 1936, 3.

  21. General Conference Committee, June 9, 1936, 2, General Conference Archives, accessed August 6, 2023, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1936-06-07.pdf.

  22. “Pittsburgh Tabernacle,” Columbia Union Visitor, June 23, 1938, 2-3.

  23. L. H. King, “Pittsburgh Number One Church Burns Its Mortgage,” Columbia Union Visitor, February 19, 1942, 2.

  24. General Conference Committee, November 29, 1937, 626, General Conference Archives, accessed August 6, 2023, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1937-11.pdf; General Conference Committee, February 3, 1938, 668, General Conference Archives, accessed August 6, 2023, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1938-02.pdf.

  25. L. R. Mansell, “Charleston Tabernacle Report,” Columbia Union Visitor, June 1, 1939, 2-3.

  26. C. V. Leach, “Evangelism in Chesapeake,” Columbia Union Visitor, January 2, 1942, 1-2.

  27. W. M. Robbins, “Evangelism,” Columbia Union Visitor, April 25, 1940, 2-3.

  28. G. L. Goodwin, “The Message by Radio,” Columbia Union Visitor, February 4, 1954, 6-7.

  29. H. J. Detwiler, “Washington Evangelistic Effort,” Columbia Union Visitor, December 23, 1943, 1.

  30. See for example, J. Ernest Edwards, “Lay Preachers’ Institute,” Columbia Union Visitor, November 2, 1944, 3.

  31. General Conference Committee, July 24, 1941, 51, General Conference Archives, accessed August 6, 2023, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1941-07.pdf.

  32. Robert L. Boothby, “How to Get Decisions,” Columbia Union Visitor, October 11, 1945, 6.

  33. “News Notes,” Lake Union Herald, May 10, 1949, 4.

  34. H. J. Detwiler, “A Hearty Welcome,” Columbia Union Visitor, September 22, 1949, 3; E. F. Willett, “Lawrence Church Organized,” Lake Union Herald, November 22, 1949, 4.

  35. R. L. Boothby, “Washington Television Program,” Columbia Union Visitor, October 26, 1950, 5; R. L. Boothby, “Telecast From Nation’s Capital,” Columbia Union Visitor, November 23, 1950, 4.

  36. H. D. Colburn, “Evangelistic Crusade Big Success,” British West Indies Visitor,” April 1952, 3.

  37. “Farewell,” Columbia Union Visitor, February 14, 1952, 2.

  38. Howard Burbank, “Detroit Metropolitan Dedication,” Lake Union Herald, December 24, 1957, 6-7.

  39. Howard Burbank, “Detroit Metropolitan Dedication,” Lake Union Herald, December 24, 1957, 6-7; Morten Juberg, “Boothby Evangelistic Crusade,” Lake Union Herald, February 18, 1958, 6.

  40. L. R. Mansell, “Presenting the Message in St. Louis,” Central Union Reaper, March 14, 1960, 4.

  41. Robert L. Bootby, Man's Only Hope (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1949).

  42. “Andrews University,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Takoma Park, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1961),

  43. D. W. Hunter, “Michigan Conference Re-elects Officers,” Lake Union Herald, May 13, 1971, 32.

  44. “Robert L. Boothby obituary,” ARH, August 13, 1981, 23.

  45. “Robert L. Boothby obituary,” ARH, August 13, 1981, 23; “Robert L Boothby obituary,” Lake Union Herald, July 21, 1981, 22-23.

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Riley, Sabrina. "Boothby, Robert Loren (1900–1981)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. October 02, 2023. Accessed June 13, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AILI.

Riley, Sabrina. "Boothby, Robert Loren (1900–1981)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. October 02, 2023. Date of access June 13, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AILI.

Riley, Sabrina (2023, October 02). Boothby, Robert Loren (1900–1981). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 13, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=AILI.