COOPERSTOWN – The Rev. Dr. Richard Stoll Armstrong, 18 days shy of his 95th birthday, died peacefully at his home at the Princeton Windrows in Plainsboro Township, N.J., on March 11, 2019, surrounded by his children and beloved caregiver.
Born in Baltimore, Md., on March 29, 1924, he was the second child of Elsie Stoll Armstrong and Herbert Eustace Armstrong, Sr.
Dick, as he was known to his family and friends, grew up in Baltimore and attended McDonogh School, a semi-military academy in Owings Mills, Md., where his father was head of the upper school mathematics department, athletic director, and head coach of the varsity football, baseball and ice hockey teams.
Dick excelled at sports while at McDonogh, playing for the varsity football, basketball and baseball teams. He was captain of the baseball team, co-captain of the basketball team, and starting left end on the football team. He was the leading pitcher and center fielder for McDonogh’s 1942 baseball team, which he led in hits, extra base hits and runs that year.
After graduating from McDonogh in 1942, Dick was awarded a Maryland Regional baseball scholarship to Princeton University, where he majored in economics. He played varsity basketball one season and varsity baseball on five different teams, including two war-time summer seasons, and was the only freshman on the 1943 baseball team. He was awarded the Underclassman Cup in 1943.
Having enlisted in the Navy in December 1942, Dick was assigned to a V-12 unit at Princeton as an apprentice seaman, and was ordered to the Navy Supply Corps School in the Midshipmen/Officers Course (MOC) at Harvard School of Business Administration in June, 1944. He was commissioned as an ensign that October, and after graduating from the MOC in May 1945, was assigned to the USS Chandeleur as disbursing officer, and later promoted to supply officer. Dick was Honorably Discharged as lieutenant. (jg) from the Navy in July 1946 and in September of that year, re-entered Princeton University as a senior under the G.I. Bill, graduating in June 1947 (class of 1946). Dick’s senior thesis on “The Unionization of Baseball” was cited in the Senate Antitrust Hearings on Major League Baseball in 1958.
After graduation, Dick signed with the American League’s Philadelphia Athletics as a pitcher and utility infielder and was assigned to their Martinsville, Va., farm club in the Carolina League, later moving up to the Lancaster, Pa., Red Roses in the Interstate League. In September 1947, Dick was offered and accepted a front office position with the Athletics’ Farm Department.
In January 1948, Dick married the love of his life, Margaret Frances Childs (Wellesley, 1947) in a ceremony in the Princeton University Chapel, and together they embarked on his exciting career as a baseball front-office executive during which he served as the business manager for the minor league Portsmouth Athletics in the Ohio-Indiana League (1948-1949), and then as the first public relations director for two major league clubs, the Philadelphia Athletics (1949-1952) and Baltimore Orioles (1953-1955).
In between his stints with the two clubs, Dick accepted an offer to become copy and plans director of the W. Wallace Orr Advertising Agency in Philadelphia. While with the agency, Dick’s versatile writing talents were used to create presentations for potential clients, plan and produce major advertising programs, write copy for radio and television commercials, newspaper and magazine ads, and write, produce and participate in singing commercials. He also co-produced and directed a television sports show featuring the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles called The Eagles’ Nest.
In October 1953, Dick was lured back into professional baseball when he had the opportunity to establish the first public relations department for the new American League Baltimore Orioles, where his father had also been appointed business manager. Among Dick’s then innovative ideas as the Orioles’ first PR director were creating the first “live” Major League mascot, “Mr. Oriole,” who made his debut in 1954 (10 years before the creation of the New York Mets’ mascot, “Mr. Met”), and developing the first Major League club fan survey. A permanent “Dick Armstrong Collection” has been established at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, comprising photographs, correspondence and other memorabilia from both his and his father’s years in professional baseball, as well as an oral history Dick dictated for the Hall.
A dramatic “Damascus Road” experience during spring training in 1955 led Dick to leave his promising career in baseball for the pastoral ministry, a moving first-person account of which is told in his book “A Sense of Being Called.” After graduating from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1958, Dick began his pastorate career, serving as pastor of both the Oak Lane Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia (1958-1968) and Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis (1974-1980), and minister of worship at the Interdenominational Congregation of Pennswood Village in Newtown, Pa. (2002-2018), where he was still preaching at the age of 94 up until his retirement due to his cancer diagnosis. In addition, Dick was Interim preacher for several congregations in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and often was a guest preacher at many different churches around the country. Dick’s book “The Oak Lane Story” and film that followed recount the renewal of the urban Philadelphia church he served that became a racially inclusive congregation through a service-oriented outreach to the community. The story inspired congregations throughout the United States and abroad to view their parish as a mission field.
Having first matriculated as a student, Dick returned to Princeton Theological Seminary twice, first in an administrative capacity as director of development and later vice president (1968-1974) and then in a faculty position as the first occupant of the Ashenfelter Chair of Ministry and Evangelism (1980-1990). He retired with emeritus status in 1990, but continued to be active in various ministries throughout the world. He served in South Africa as a member of the advisory committee for the Centre for Contextual Ministry at Pretoria University, where he assisted with the peaceful transition for black ministers who had limited educational opportunities due to apartheid. Dick also served as vice president and then president of the Academy for Evangelism and Theological Education (1987-1991), as well as editor of the Academy’s journal (1991-1997).
Dick was an exceptionally creative person who wrote poetry and music throughout his life. His song “The Connie Mack Swing,” published in 1950 as part of the year-long Golden Jubilee celebration Dick created to commemorate legendary Philadelphia Athletics’ owner/manager Connie Mack’s 50 years with the club, became the A’s unofficial theme song while the club was still in Philadelphia. Two of Dick’s songs are in Princeton University’s songbook, Carmina Princetonia, and his first hymn, written for a music course he took at Princeton seminary, was published in the United States’ Armed Forces Hymnal. In 1996 he was commissioned to write a song commemorating the 50th reunion of Princeton University’s Bicentennial Class of 1946, which was introduced by the Princeton University Band and sung by the Princeton Nassoons. His song “Tigertown Blues,” written while he was a member of the Nassoons in 1946 and for many years the group’s unofficial theme song, was featured in the 2013 film “Admission” starring Paul Rudd and Tina Fey.
A prolific writer, Dick authored numerous books and articles drawing upon his varied background as a Navy veteran, major league baseball front office executive, advertising copy and plans director, radio broadcaster, development officer, journal editor, teacher, coach, and pastor. At the time of his death Dick had more than four dozen unfinished book projects, including nearly 3,000 pages of unpublished poetry.
In addition to his awards for athletic and academic achievement during his school and college years, Dick received many other honors as an adult. He was the first recipient of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ (FCA) “Distinguished Service Award” in 1965, and later received the FCA’s “Branch Rickey Memorial Award” (1973) and “Life Trustee Award” (1981). The FCA, founded in 1954, was an organization Dick was instrumental in getting established and was involved with for the rest of his life: he was an officer and member of its National Board of Trustees, established the Philadelphia, Princeton and Livingston (NJ) chapters of the FCA and assisted in the establishment of chapters in Baltimore and other cities, and served in a variety of capacities for the organization’s annual national conferences from 1958-1974. On four separate occasions Dick was invited by the Board of Trustees to become the president of the FCA; however, work and family obligations prevented Dick from accepting the position each time.
Among Dick’s other major awards and honors were the “Outstanding Service Award” from the Indiana Chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (1980); the Friends of Princeton Baseball’s “Robert L. Peters Award” (1990); the first recipient of the Academy for Evangelism in Theological Education’s “Charles Grandison Finney Award” (1997); the National Council of Presbyterian Men’s “Horizon 21 Award for Leadership Service” (1999); and the Albert Nelson Marquis Who’s Who “Lifetime Achievement Award” (2017).
Dick served on the Board of many not-for-profit, religious and sports organizations, including the FCA; Princeton Theological Seminary; McDonogh School; American Boychoir School; and the Indianapolis Indians baseball club, the AAA affiliate of the American League Cleveland Indians. He was elected to the Maryland Oldtimers Baseball Association Hall of Fame in 1994, and the McDonogh School Athletics Hall of Fame in 1997.
As busy as he was with his work and volunteer activities, Dick was devoted to his wife and family. He and Margie were married for almost 66 years, prior to her death in 2013. Dick always said that he was in love with Margie “even before I met her,” because she was the “girl of my dreams” who embodied all the qualities he admired and was seeking in a life partner. Together they had five children, three of whom survive, and at the time of his death Dick was the proud and loving grandfather of seven and great-grandfather of six, with a seventh on the way.
Dick and Margie loved to travel, taking their young family all over the United States, and in later years leading groups of family members and friends on many international tours, including to Eastern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand, and the Holy Land. Margie also accompanied Dick on his speaking and teaching engagements throughout North America and abroad; they were an inseparable pair, joined at the heart and through their deep faith. A poet, pioneer, pastor, preacher, professor, author, singer/songwriter, and a man of many firsts who always tried to do his best in all things, Dick will be missed by family, friends, colleagues and former students all over the world.
Dick is survived by his son-in-law, Michael Kanarek; his son and daughter-in-law Andrew and Caroline Armstrong; his son and daughter-in-law William (Woody) and Christine Armstrong; his daughter and son-in-law the Reverend Elsie and Thomas Rhodes; his grandson Derek Kanarek and his wife Rebecca; his grandson Graham Kanarek and his wife Marnie; his grandson Orion Kanarek; his granddaughter Alyssa McGlinn and her husband Francis; his granddaughter Olivia Armstrong; his grandson Seth Olsen and his wife Mary; his grandson Samuel Rhodes; his great-grandsons Charlie, Will, Elliott, Gabriel and Julian; step-great-grandson Chili; and a large extended family of nieces, nephews and cousins. He was predeceased by his devoted wife of nearly 66 years, Margaret Childs Armstrong, brother Herbert Eustace Armstrong, Jr., daughter Ellen Armstrong Kanarek, and son Richard Stoll Armstrong, Jr.
Arrangements by the Mather Hodge Funeral Home, Princeton, NJ (matherhodge.com). Burial will be private. A memorial service is planned for 1:30 pm on May 9, 2019 at Miller Chapel, Princeton Theological Seminary, 64 Mercer St., Princeton, NJ 08542.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Childs and Armstrong Family Scholarship Fund at Princeton Theological Seminary (ptsem.edu), to the Armstrong Family Scholarship Fund at McDonogh School (mcdonogh.org), or to Seasons Hospice Foundation (seasons.org).