Robert Atherstone Stumbles (1952)
BOB STUMBLES: LAWYER, CHURCH CHANCELLOR AND SOCIAL JUSTICE ADVOCATE
Bob was a distinguished Zimbabwean lawyer, an outspoken advocate for social justice and a sought after public speaker. A sincere man with great integrity, deep compassion and an enormous energy and love for life, he lived to serve others. Bob is perhaps most remembered in recent years for his Herculean efforts to save the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe from the excommunicated former Bishop of Harare, Nolbert Kunonga.
Robert Atherstone Stumbles was born in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) in 1954. He was educated at St Georges College, Salisbury and went on to read law at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa and then at Oxford in England, where he continued his prominence in rugby and athletics.
After “eating his dinners” at Grays Inn in London, where he became President of the Oxford University Grays Inn Law Society in 1958, he was selected from among the four Inns of Court to be Marshal to High Court Judges Sir Donald Finnemore and Sir Austin Jones on Assize Circuit.
In 1960 he returned to Zimbabwe to join the law firm founded by his father Albert Rubidge Washington Stumbles in 1928. Rubidge went into politics and later become Speaker of the House in 1964 (when he made his famous ruling in February 1966 that Parliament could continue to function after Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence), and Bob developed the firm into the well known Harare law firm “Stumbles & Rowe”, becoming Senior Partner in 1983. Bob practised with distinction in the fields of constitutional law, international law, corporate law and the law of trusts. He had the foresight to acquire Sacranie, Gow & Co, a leading law firm in Malawi, and also practised in Botswana.
He was Chairman of the National Unity Association formed in 1977 with objectives including the removal of racial discrimination.
In 1978 Bob was invited to attend the National Constitutional Talks which resulted in the Rhodesia/Zimbabwe settlement, and was a member of the National Constitutional Committee appointed to draft the 1978 Constitution for Zimbabwe. He was asked to provide advice during the Lancaster House Talks, chaired by Lord Carrington, which heralded independence for Zimbabwe in 1980. In 1999 he was appointed as a member of the National Constitution Review Commission to draft a new Constitution for Zimbabwe.
He was a member of the Judicial Services Commission of Zimbabwe from 1985 until 2000.
Bob was renowned for his often vocal role as commissioner on the highly publicised Sandura Commission in 1989 to investigate corruption by high level politicians and others in the distribution of motor vehicles (known as the “Willowgate” scandal).
His numerous awards include the Jaycees Award, 1971, as one of the Two Most Outstanding Young Men of the Country (Zimbabwe). He was runner-up for the "Communicator of the Year" award in Zimbabwe for 1980 (President Mugabe being the winner). On the approval of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth Bob was made a Serving Brother of the Order of St John in Jerusalem in 1989. In 1999 he was invested with the Order of Epiphany by the Archbishop of the Church of the Province of Central Africa. He won the American Biographical Institute's award of "Man of the Year 2006" for "outstanding accomplishments and the noble example he has set for his peers and entire community". In 2009 Bob was invited to participate in the World Justice Forum in Vienna (the aim of which was to foster the Rule of Law).
Assisting the handicapped was an abiding interest for Bob, due to the near loss of a leg as a young man. He was founder member of the National Executive Committee of Paraplegic Associations in 1963 and attended the Paraplegic Games in Israel with the Rhodesian National Paraplegic Team in 1968. From 1979 to 1989 he was Chairman of the National Association of Societies for the Care of the Handicapped in Zimbabwe. In 1981 he was appointed by the Government as National Chairman of the International Year of Disabled Persons. From 1983 to 1989 he was founder editor of the African Rehabilitation Journal.
Bob was tireless in his devotion to community work, which included being Chairman of the Dorothy Duncan Centre for the Elderly and the Sight Affected and Chairman of Childline Zimbabwe. He contributed to the betterment of Zimbabwe in his roles as trustee for the Development Trust of Zimbabwe, trustee for the National Trust of Zimbabwe and trustee and Chairman of the Beit Trust Africa.
He enthusiastically supported Round Table, becoming President of the Association of Round Tables in Central Africa in 1971 and being made honorary life member of the Association of Round Tables of Central Africa in 1975 (Highest Award). In 1973, he was elected World President of the World Council of Young Men’s Service Clubs at the annual conference in Bruges, Belgium, his theme being to “better human understanding through breaking down political and racial barriers”, and during his presidency he travelled to 42 countries. He was made Rotary Paul Harris Fellow 1988 in recognition of services to community and furtherance of better understanding between peoples of the world.
He was Registrar of the Anglican Diocesan of Mashonaland/Harare from 1972 to 1990, Chancellor for the Anglican Diocese of Harare since 1990, Deputy Chancellor of the Anglican Diocese for the Province of Central Africa since 1989 and recently acting Chancellor.
Despite the very serious situations he often faced, he retained a sense of humour and a positive outlook. Bob loved to play on words and was notorious for his puns. He was unfailingly kind, courteous and considerate, and had the gift of making people feel valued and respected. Bob was blessed with an excellent singing voice, with resonant bass tones. He was an enthusiastic tennis player, and was in the middle of his regular Wednesday afternoon “four” when he suffered a fatal heart attack.
He is survived by his wife Pam, whom he married in 1960, his daughter and his two sons.
Robert Atherstone Stumbles, lawyer and advocate for social justice, was born on September 1, 1934. He died of a heart attack on March 17, 2010, aged 75.