Rev. Frank Riley Sandifer, 68, was longtime Episcopal rector


Despite a stroke more than 10 years ago that left him unable to speak and in a wheelchair, the Rev. Frank Riley Sandifer learned how to use a computer, continued playing bridge and attended the symphony and the theater.

"He would go snorkeling and we'd take his wheelchair right into the water. He flew in an airplane around the Grand Canyon and traveled out west. He never lost his interest in life," said a stepdaughter, Michele O'Connell of Arlington, Va.

Father Sandifer, whose 26-year career as rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Long Green was ended by the 1986 stroke, died Tuesday of respiratory failure at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 68.

He had spent the last years of his life communicating with his wife and children through a language he created that employed some sounds and his hands and eyes.

Despite crippling rheumatoid arthritis, he struggled to write and answer questions on a tablet in his lap and through it all maintained a cheerful and upbeat demeanor.

"He never complained or expressed any anger for being in that condition," said the Rev. Ben Turnage, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church. "He was a fighter to his very last breath, and I think his abiding faith kept him going."

Said Mrs. O'Connell, "He never lost his faith and, if anything, it made him stronger."

Father Sandifer learned to walk again with assistance. On Sundays, family members and communicants carried him up the church steps so he could attend services at Trinity Episcopal, which lacks a handicapped access ramp.

Father Sandifer swam at the League for the Handicapped, where he was an inspiration to other clients.

"[Counselors] would say, 'If you want inspiration go see Frank Sandifer,' " Mrs. O'Connell said.

Father Sandifer, who resided in Long Green Valley, was born and raised in Wichita Falls, Texas. He earned a bachelor's degree from Southern Methodist University in 1950. In 1954, he earned a master's degree in theology from the Philadelphia Divinity School and was ordained an Episcopal priest.

After serving at churches in Pennsylvania and Texas, he was rector of the Episcopal Church of the Advent in Baltimore from 1957 until 1960, when he was appointed rector of Trinity Episcopal Church.

"He was a warrior, a man who got things done," said Bill Litsinger, a parish member. His attitude was, let's stop talking and get things done. He was pro-active and a darned good persuader."

Father Sandifer's legacy at the 178-year-old Trinity Episcopal Church is the growth of both the congregation and the day

school, Father Turnage said.

"This was a tiny country parish church when he came here, and now its a viable, thriving church," Father Turnage said. "In the school, we now have 90 students, 12 teachers, a director and an administrative assistant. But most of all, he maintained the family feeling here."

Services for Father Sandifer will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Trinity Episcopal Church, 12400 Manor Road, Long Green.

He is survived by his wife of 17 years, the former Margaret DeFalco; three sons, Jonathan Sandifer of Hot Springs, Ark., Phillip Sandifer of Austin, Texas, and Michael Sandifer of Nashville, Tenn.; two daughters, Margaret Henschel of Glen Arm and Mary Echols of Hot Springs; another stepdaughter, Martha Welch of Gloucester, Va.; a brother, Richard Sandifer of Edgewater; a sister, Cathy Crawford of Birmingham, Ala.; 15 grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.

Memorial donations may be made in Father Sandifer's name for construction of a handicapped access ramp at Trinity Episcopal Church.

! Pub Date: 5/16/97

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