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David Gearhart

The Baltimore Sun

David Franklin Gearhart, a retired Episcopal clergyman who served a Ruxton congregation for nearly two decades, died in his sleep Wednesday at the Blakehurst Retirement Community in Towson. He was 84.

Born in Palmerton, Pa., he attended what was then called Governor Dummer Academy in South Byfield, Mass., and earned degrees in industrial engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. He remained active in the school's alumni affairs and with Phi Gamma Delta.

As a young man he attended the YMCA's Camp Dudley on Lake Champlain and later became a counselor. Family members said the camp's motto, "The other fellow first," became a principle that guided his life.

After working briefly at Bethlehem Steel, he took a year off, as he told friends, "to find himself" and his true vocation.

In his writings, Mr. Gearhart - he did not use the religious title of father - said he was inspired by the example of the rector of his home parish and entered General Seminary in New York City to train for the ministry.

While living in Greenwich Village, he met his future wife, Harriet Willcox, while on a double blind date. He started attending her church, Grace Episcopal in New York City, and they married in 1951. He transferred to Virginia Seminary in Alexandria, where he received a Bachelor of Divinity degree a year later.

His first parish was St. George's Church in Hellertown, Pa. In 1957, he was called to St. Paul's Church in Centreville on the Eastern Shore and in 1965 to the Church of the Good Shepherd in Ruxton, where he served until his retirement in 1984.

Friends said he often filled his sermons with references to his wife and four children.

In the summers of 1964 and 1965, reviving memories of his days at Camp Dudley, he directed a parish camp at Camp Wright on the Chesapeake Bay in Stevensville.

In 1970, he exchanged parishes for an eight-month period with another rector, Tony Richards of St. Francis Terriers in High Wycombe, England.

"He loved the experience and developed an Anglophilia that lasted the rest of his life," said his daughter, Sarah Gearhart of Baltimore.

After his retirement from Good Shepherd, he returned to Centreville, where he designed and supervised the building of a house at the town landing and became part-time rector of All Faith Chapel in Tunis Mills.

He and his wife then fully retired to Blakehurst, where he was reunited with many of his parishioners from his time at Good Shepherd.

Throughout his ministry he was active in many church organizations, including the Church Home and Hospital in Baltimore and the Church Mission of Help, an Episcopal charity. He twice served as a delegate to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

"His faith and many dedicated medical professionals, as well as The Barney Miller Show and British television comedies, sustained him through many serious illnesses over the years - several kinds of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes," his daughter said.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, Boyce and Carrollton avenues.

In addition to his daughter and wife, survivors include a son, Tyler Gearhart of Baltimore; two other daughters, Mary Gearhart of Baltimore and Rosalie Gearhart Yob of Mill Valley, Calif.; and five grandchildren.

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