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By JENNIFER MILLER STROBEL
Dr. Robert Caverlee officiated at a lot of weddings in the course of his ministry, which spanned more than half a century.
He married couples in weddings planned to the tiniest detail, in churches filled with guests.
He officiated at impromptu weddings in the parsonage, with only his wife, Lillian, as a witness.
Either way, the beloved longtime minister of Fredericksburg Baptist Church made the occasion special.
Just last summer, an older couple stopped by the church, seeking information about Caverlee and sharing long-ago memories of their parsonage wedding.
Dennis Sacrey, church administrator, was happy to show them around the church's heritage room and its photos of Caverlee, who died in 1971.
The visitors told him how, during World War II, they were passing through town when they decided then and there that they wanted to get married.
Their pre-planning consisted of a question to a stranger who told them, "Oh, you have to go up to the Baptist church for that."
They did, and in short order they had become husband and wife with the blessing of Caverlee.
A lifetime later, they returned to the town where it all started.
"They went on and on about how he and Mrs. Caverlee made it such a special time," Sacrey said.
Caverlee was happy to oblige couples, including one pair who requested that their wedding take place in-flight, on a biplane.
Even with that lofty career moment, however, Caverlee was best-known as a down-to-earth, multitalented minister, teacher, community leader and fisherman.
He devoted half a century to the ministry, with 29 years at Fredericksburg Baptist Church on Princess Anne Street. He was an assistant professor at Mary Washington College; sports announcer for James Monroe High School football games; host of two local radio programs, "Dr. Bob's Hunting and Fishing Corner" and "Dr. Bob's Treasures From Twice-Turned Pages"; a Scouting devotee, both as a boy and as an adult leader--and that list highlights only a few of his many contributions to his community.
Caverlee's name lives on in the church's Caverlee Memorial Chapel, where Sunday school classes and various worship services are held.
He is among the stellar citizens chosen for Fredericksburg's Wall of Honor in the City Council Chambers. Since the inception of the program in 2000, the names of 47 men and women have been placed on the wall. (The city's Memorials Advisory Committee accepts nominees for the award.)
Caverlee shared the honor last year with Claude T. "Bill" Parcell, president of Fredericksburg's Farmers' Creamery, then business manager for auxiliary enterprises at Mary Washington College.
Caverlee's granddaughter and daughter--Mary Susan Billingsley and Bobbie June Caverlee Schuler--shared these photos, snapshots of a life lived to its fullest.
Billingsley lives in Spotsylvania County, and Caverlee Schuler--named Bobbie for her father--lives in Lynchburg.
Billingsley and her brother, Frank, who now lives in Alexandria, spent many childhood hours in the parsonage at 1100 Princess Anne St., a block from the church.
"I always loved the smell of his pipe. He had a very distinctive pipe," Billingsley recalled by telephone.
"You knew he was there," she said of that pungent tobacco smell that followed him everywhere.
Her grandmother filled many roles, not the least as household manager of the constant flood of phone calls and visitors to their house a block from the church.
"There were no Post-it notes then, and my grandmother would have at least 15 notes pinned to her blouse of things to tell him when he came back," Billingsley recalled.
Caverlee hardly slowed his pace after his 1961 retirement, when he compared himself to a "circuit rider" as he traveled throughout Virginia and neighboring states filling vacant pulpits.
He joked he was considering returning to active ministry so he would have more free time.
After his 1971 death, a Free Lance-Star editorial noted that "Dr. Bob touched the lives of thousands of people."
The Rev. Paige Young, pastor of Ferry Farm Baptist Church, wrote in a letter that Caverlee "was a man endowed with the rare gift of greatness. He attacked life with an energy that was startling."
Young also noted that Caverlee's "great sermons are still at work in the lives of the thousands who heard them delivered in his unique style. His ability as a public speaker was the very best, but his greatest sermon was his life."
Fredericksburg City Council recently accepted three new names to the Wall of Honor. They are:
Dr. George Brumble,
W. Sidney Armstrong,
John W. Scott Jr., civil rights pioneer from his teen years and the city's first black judge.NOMINATE SOMEONE
Want to nominate someone for the Wall of Honor? Download (see link below) an application form or call the city clerk at 372-1010. Nominations should meet the following criteria and be submitted, with supporting information such as obituaries and news articles, to Tonya Lacey, Clerk of Council , City of Fredericksburg, Box 7447, Fredericksburg, Va. 22404 or 715 Princess Anne St., Room 208, Fredericksburg.
Nominees should be deceased for at least one year prior to nomination.
Nominees must have been residents of the Fredericksburg area who made significant contributions to the welfare of the city.
Nominations may be submitted by any person, other than immediate family members, who was personally acquainted with the nominee.fredericksburgva.gov/uploaded Files/Boards/General_Content/Wall_Honor_Updated 04272012.pdf