In 1978, Bob Porter accepted a teaching assignment at the Tehran International School, teaching German and English to high school students and in the evening, he taught English to junior college students a little outside the main part of town. Six weeks into the school year, the revolution began. Everywhere you went, students were excited and all Iranians were tuned into their transistor radios. Bob lived on a street where the revolutionaries went by for hours, armed with pitchforks and any other items that could be used as tools of destruction. Part of his job was to administer the Graduate Record Exam and he was picked up early in the morning and when there was no one around anywhere. This particular morning, as he was waiting for his ride, a carload of revolutionaries roared up and screeched to a halt in front of Bob. He thought this was it! The heavily-armed guy in charge came to him and asked in Farsi, "Is this a certain street?" as he understood and told them, they went on their way. Whew!
The last day of exams, he was running up the stairs with the exams and he fell and had to be rushed to the hospital as his foot was turned a 180 angle. A very kind doctor who spoke American English told him he could get by without a cast if he "hopped" and used crutches. He was living in a basement and very kind neighbors helped him and when he would go shopping, all the shopkeepers were solicitous and always offered him Coca Cola.
Next stop on his teaching career was Sri Lanka. He was at Jaffna and the school had been an American mission school but now belonged to the local church. Every time he went into a department store - usually he travelled by bus or bicycle - the very kind owners brought him coffee or Coco Cola. They were Muslim. Again, not long after arriving in Sri Lanka, the Tamil Eelam (Tigers) sought liberation from the government. The Tigers feared that the Muslims were not backing their movement, so they forced all Muslims to leave town with a two-hour notice and as far as Bob knows, they never returned. This started in 1983 and Bob stayed until 1998, so he had 15 years of this bloody mess.
During this entire time, chaos reigned and the government made things inconvenient for him. Once he was on a train going back to Jaffna from a meeting. The army stopped the train and said that no foreigners were supposed to be in Jaffna. A big burly officer took him off the train because "he did not have a permit." Bob was put on a train back to Colombo. Then he began the adventure of finding a permit. He spoke to a school principal whose friend headed the Office of Secretary of Defense and he directed Bob to another general who gave him a permit.
In Vaddu Koddai at Jaffna College, he taught English and directed combined high school choirs. They asked him to teach German at the university until the situation got so bad that his head professor had to flee with his family. He also taught for the TOEFL test (English as a Foreign Language). He taught that class in the library of a private citizen who built it in honor of his wife. After her death, he gave it to Jaffna College. Bob taught that class early on Sunday morning. Some people objected because they thought he should be in church. One morning, the people in the library told him not to go to his classroom on the second floor because the bombers were flying. They directed him to the bunker in the garden. However, he had to go to the outside restroom. That is when the bombing occurred. Happily, the library was not hit!
Robert was born in Richmond, California to Seattle natives who were there because his father worked at Standard Oil. It was depression time and the father became disenchanted with the layoff policies of Standard Oil and he quit. He enrolled in San Francisco Theological Seminary at San Anselmo, California and after student pastorates and a church of his own in Walnut Creek, he was hired to be the director of Westminster House program at the University of Washington.
Bob and his sister attended Roosevelt High School and the family had two cousins living with them along with their paternal grandmother and two or three boarders. There were usually ten people at the family dining table.
He elected to be a conscientious objector in high school but was deferred through college. He attended Pomona College, majoring in English literature. After graduation, he performed his alternate service with the Brethren Service Commission and he was sent to Germany to work at administering a work camp program. After two years of service, he worked for the World Council of Churches' Refugee Resettlement processing program papers for emigration to whomever could be found to sponsor the refugees.
The next stop on his life journey was a return to the University of Washington to obtain a Master's in German and English and a subsequent return to Germany where he did post graduate work under a German program called Dankstipendium, taking German and organ.
Upon his return to the U.S., he taught high school English and German in South Bend, Washington; then German, French, English at a Church of the Brethren college in McPherson, Kansas, and migrated to Rice in Houston, Texas where he received a Ph.D. in German. The head of the department had been one of his professors at the University of Washington, and he completed the course work and dissertation in three years. His dissertation was the early works and non-fiction of Thomas Mann. All the work was computerized.
At Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania, he was head of the Modern Language Dept; in Germany, he participated in the Education Exchange and taught English and German in Detmold (this was close to the NW German Music Academy which pleased him very much), then to Marburg for the Brethren College Abroad. While there, he led two student trips into East Germany to Leipzig, Erfurt, Weimar, Dresden and Meissen. The preparation for the trips was "hairy" and he had to make all the calls himself. The Communist government kept them in suspense until the last minute when a telegram arrived including all the names and visas. He continued his teaching career by teaching German one year at Oregon State University.
Bob fills his retirement ?? days by working with Multifaith Works and is on a team caring for individuals who live at Beighle House and have AIDS. He sings in a choir at Northminister Presbyterian and he continues working with the Lions Club which he joined while living in Sri Lanka. He was the Zone chair last year and is on the Governor's Cabinet for International Relations for the coming year.
He is very grateful that he had all his worldwide experiences. It taught him that of all the things you do professionally, it is the people you come into contact with that mean the most. He is lucky to have friends all over the world and we are lucky to have him living at Hilltop House.