Robert Risk

Dr. Robert G. Risk died Thursday, February 16, 2006 at the age of 96. He had recently been living in Kansas City, close to his son, Gordon. Doctor Risk was born in Lisbon, ND on 10/3/09, the eleventh of twelve surviving children born to Joseph Albert Risk. His father, the stationmaster in Lisbon for the Northern Pacific Railroad, was an admirer of John Dewey and served as president of the Lisbon school board while his children were in its schools. His mother was a published poet, and several of Bob’s sisters were accomplished musicians. The family home was reportedely filled with music while the children were growing up. Dr. Risk initially attended Purdue University but transferred after a year to Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago, IL, from which he graduated in 1932. He met his wife, Jane Jones, while a dental student and married her in 1933. Three of Dr. Risk’s older brothers were dentists and he joined their practice in Lafayette, IN after graduating from Northwestern. He did not stay long in Lafayette, however, moving to Indianapolis, IN in 1938 where he remained until recently. While he had a busy dental practice throughout almost all of his years in Indianapolis, retiring only in 1999 at the age of 89, he was also a prodigious fundraiser. Beneficiaries of his fundraising talents included the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, All Souls Unitarian Church, Planned Parenthood of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Ballet, and Liberal Democratic politicians. He was always clear that you have to put up significant amounts of your own money if you expect to ask others for theirs. He was president of All Souls for a number of years and established the Frontiers of Knowledge program, which brought scholars and scientists to the church for Sunday morning presentations. Bob and Jane had many friends at All Souls, and it was an important part of their lives. Bob was also active in the American Humanist Association. He was one of the founding members of the ICLU in 1954 and its first president, a position he held during the height of the McCarthy era. Dr. Risk, for years, sought to use the auditorium of the World War Memorial in Indianapolis, a public building for a meeting of the ICLU. He was never, however, able to convince the commissioners of the Memorial that the ICLU was not a subversive group and thus eligible to use the Memorial for a opublic meeting. Bob, through his mother, had an attachment to Colorado and had the opportunity during his dental school years to work with surveyors with the U.S. Geological Survey in the Colorado Rockies. These ties may have been the factors in his decision to assume direction of the Leadville Corp. in 1949, an enterprise to which he devoted considerable money and effort over the next 50 years. His assumption was that significant amounts of valuable minerals remain in the rocks,and that by accumulating hundreds of small claims he could assemble a valuable mining district. Geophysical studies seemed to confirm this hypothesis, but environmental problems from earlier mining never allowed it to be fully tested. His liberal positions brought him into conflict with the editoprial positions of the Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News, and he was a frequent contributor to their Letters sections. Not content to languish as an easily marginalized writer of letters, however, Dr. Risk testified on issues before the state legislature and was state finance chairman for Birch Bayh’s initial, successful Senate campaign and for John Kennedy’s Presidential campaign. He was a personal friend of former Supreme Justice Byron White, a personal friend of former Senator Hubert Humphrey, and with these men a strong opponent of segregation. Dr. Risk was preceded in death by his wife Jane and by all of his brothers and sisters. Surviving are his children, Judith Gammon, Spokane, WA, Sally Grabill, Lake Forest, IL, Gordon Risk, Kansas City, MO, four grandchidlren, and ten great-grandchildren. A memorial service if not planned, but he will be remembered at All Souls. Contributions may be made to Planned Parenthood of Indianapolis or the Unitarian Church.

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