Robert Hartman

The Baltimore Sun

Robert Hill Hartman, an ordained Methodist minister and former chairman of the department of philosophy and religious studies at Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, died Sunday of pneumonia at Carroll Hospital Center. The Westminster resident was 76.

Dr. Hartman was born in Berwick, Pa., the son and grandson of Methodist ministers. He grew up in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

In 1953, he earned a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College, and in 1956, a bachelor's degree in theology from Boston University School of Theology. He earned a doctorate in sacred theology in 1969 from Northwestern University Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.

Dr. Hartman, who was ordained as a Methodist minister in 1956 and served as pastor at churches in Ohio and Chicago, was a member of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference.

He taught religion for a year at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, before joining the faculty of Western Maryland College in 1969.

In addition to teaching philosophy for 26 years, he was chairman of the department of philosophy and religious studies at the college for 20 years before retiring in 1995.

In a 1995 commencement address at the college, Dr. Hartman urged the graduates to be "more erotic," referring to the deity Eros who the Greeks believed was the spirit of life.

He added: "Eros is the source of all creating, building, thinking, imagining, dreaming, striving, reaching outward and upward."

"Dr. Hartman made a positive difference in the life of the mind, conveying to generations of students the grand heritage of European history from the pre-Socrates period to the 20th century," said Joyce Muller, associate vice president of communications and marketing at the Westminster college.

Dr. Hartman's ethics classes were popular with students.

"On college campuses, the interest in ethics is just enormous," he told The Sun in 1993. "Issues like AIDS and the environment are coming home, and kids are saying, 'We better start thinking about these things in the long term.'"

It was Dr. Hartman's involvement with the Potomac River Basin Consortium, founded by the University of Maryland in 1981 to promote scholarly, cultural, natural and historical interest in the area, that led to his interest in Appalachia and the publication of his book, Poverty and Economic Justice: A Philosophical Approach.

"While he was a philosopher, he was also very concerned about the underprivileged and marginalized," said Dr. Ira G. Zepp, a retired McDaniel College professor of religious studies. "He was a clergyman who was very uneasy around injustice."

He was a founder and served on the board since 1990 of what is now Interfaith Housing Alliance Inc., which provides affordable housing to low-income families in five counties -- Carroll, Frederick, Washington, Allegany and Garrett -- and shelters for victims of domestic violence.

"We started out with nothing and grew as an organization because of people like Dr. Hartman," said James E. Upchurch Jr., the organization's director. "He had a very strong faith, and he believed that you demonstrated your faith by putting your beliefs into action."

In the early days, not everyone welcomed the organization's plans.

In 1998, Dr. Hartman told The Sun that he received hate calls when the public learned that Interfaith Housing was trying to purchase land for housing.

When the organization was founded, its target goal was to build 1,000 housing units within a decade. It realized that goal in 2005.

For his efforts, a street in Taneytown where Interfaith Housing has erected 150 homes was named for Dr. Hartman.

Dr. Hartman was also a board member of Human Services of Carroll County and had been a four-day-a-week tutor at the Community Learning Center at Westminster High School.

A railroad enthusiast, he had constructed a large permanent HO-gauge model railroad based on the old Western Maryland Railway. He enjoyed listening to classical music, reading, and playing golf.

Dr. Hartman was a member of the Charge Conference of the Westminster United Methodist Church, 162 E. Main St., where a memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Surviving are his wife of 50 years, the former Catherine Neal, a retired Westminster High School special-education and English teacher; a son, David A. Hartman of Myrtle Beach, N.C.; a daughter, Carol Hartman Kelbaugh of Westminster; and a grandson.

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