Robert Kingwill Elliott, 78, died Tuesday 21 March, 2006, of complications from lung cancer, surrounded by his 6 children and his wife. He was a retired attorney, and more importantly to him, a shaman (having trained with Michael Harner). He was also the spiritual leader of a community of people, many of whom lived near them in the Murray Creek Valley near San Andreas, California, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Born on September 9, 1927, in Washington, DC, Bob Elliott was the son of a prominent attorney, who argued several cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He and his older brother and sister grew up near Rock Creek Park in Washington. He attended school at the Bidwell Friends School. Although both of his parents were bright, creative people, for various understandable reasons each of them suffered from depression; when he was a teenager, his life was shattered when first his mother and then his father committed suicide. After that, he lived for five years with his older sister and brother-in-law, while attending school in Texas and Massachusetts and at boarding school at Mercersberg Academy in Pennsylvania, where he played football and took part in the Drama club. Most importantly, while at Mercersberg he met (on a blind date) the love of his life, Ann Helena Kearney, a student at a nearby girls' boarding school.
After graduation, Bob Elliott enlisted in the U.S. Army, but because WWII was nearly over, he was assigned to the medical corps as a medical technician and helped process returning soldiers. During this time, he contracted hepatitis, which led to complications in his later life. Upon discharge from the Army, he attended college at Northwestern University followed by Stanford Law School (classmates with later US Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O'Connor and William Rennquist). Bob and Ann were married September 14, 1947.
Because of their family backgrounds (Bob's parents' suicide, Ann's being an only child and her parents' divorce), it was important to them that they have a large family, an ambition that they richly achieved. Their first two children were born while they were living in Palo Alto; 4 other children came later. After completing law school and passing the California Bar, Bob and Ann moved to Lodi, at the time a small farming community in the Central Valley of California, where Bob worked as a junior associate for the law firm Rinn & Rott. He later reported that his first work involved helping untangle the complicated legal affairs of Japanese Americans who had been interned during WWII; it is certain that this early professional experience contributed to his life-long interest in social justice and his distrust of government authority.
During the 1950's Bob and Ann were prominent in the social life of Lodi, serving in various social-benevolent organizations, including Junior Chamber of Commerce, Rotary International, and Omega Nu. Following the birth of their first two children, Robert Jr and William (Willy) Nichols, they had 3 more children in rapid succession: Anna Christina, Louisa Lea, and Conal Mullen, moving several times as their family grew. Finally, in 1969 their youngest child, Joseph Francis, was born.
By the early 1960's, however, they had begun to be disillusioned with the prominent social circles in which they had surrounded themselves, and they began to disengage from these. At the same time, Ann and then Bob began to move more deeply into religion, and Bob had a series of religious conversion or deepening/awakening experiences. At first, they were involved at St. John's Episcopal Church in Lodi; later they added a broader range of religious and spiritual activities. Bob and Ann became involved in Yokefellows and other forms of small group spirituality, including the Omega Fellowship, the charismatic movement, and later Cursillo. Due to the hepatitis he contracted during WWII, Bob had had a series of increasingly serious bouts of pancreatitis during this time, culminating in 1970 with a major episode and near-death experience. This experience continued and consolidated his process of transformation: he changed his diet, was finally able to quit smoking, and further deepened his spiritual life.
Coming out of these transformations and their emerging community of new friends, the 1970's found Bob and Ann increasing convinced that western civilization was on the verge of environmental, economic, and political collapse. They became gentle survivalists, stockpiled food and explored self-sufficiency, before finding property in the Murray Creek Valley near San Andreas. Beginning in 1974 they purchased 60 acres, where they raised goats and followed organic gardening practices. After 1977, they and four other families moved permanently to the valley, with the intention of creating an alternative community organized on religious and progressive principles. It was during this time that Bob began studying shamanism under anthropologist Michael Harner, typically the only nonpsychologist in his training group. Shamanism gave Bob a broader approach to spirituality, connecting him to spiritual traditions throughout the world, especially native American traditions. As he explored this tradition, and developed his skills during the 1980's and 1990's, he became a sought-after spiritual healer and leader of guided meditations and small groups, and was able to draw upon his own life experiences to help others. The most significant work during this time was the construction of the well-known Murray Creek Labyrinth, a traditional 7-circuit Cretan labyrinth used as a meditation space and walking meditation site, located along the Murray Creek beneath a large-spreading California live oak.
Family was always central in Bob's life, and beyond Ann and their six children, his family so far has grown to include 12 grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and innumerable friends, fellow spirits and mentees within a large-spreading spiritual family, including his many friends at Trinity Episcopal Church in Sutter Creek. With his long white hair, three power animals (bear, wolf, eagle), and radical progressive epistemology and political philosophy (he was working on formulating a post-post-modernist approach when he died), he was truly a larger-than-life figure who was able to transform difficult early life experiences into generosity of spirit and healing magic.
He is survived by his wife Ann Elliott; sister Eleanor Main; children Robert Elliott Jr.(Diane), Willy Elliott-McCrea (Katie Elliott-McCrea), Anna Elliott (Jim Madden), Louisa Elliott, Conal Elliott, Joseph Elliott (Ebru); grandchildren Brendan Elliott, Kenneth Elliott, Kellan Elliott-McCrea, Aidan Elliott-McCrea, Fiona Elliott-McCrea, Luke Madden, Antony Heiland, Natasha Heiland, Jacob Elliott, Rebecca Elliott, Charlotte Elliott, Patrick Elliott; great grand-daughter Audrey Elliott-Heye; nephew Elliott Main (Denise), and nieces Courtenay Harding, Wingate Payne, Daphne Butterbaugh (Jack).
In lieu of flowers the family requests that those wishing to make memorials do so by contributing to Second Harvest Food For Children, feeding 4000 low income children per month (P.O. 990, Watsonville, CA 95077 or www.thefoodbank.org).