The final installment in our 17-day exploration into the lives of Phi Kappa Tau’s founding members is Robert Leon Meeks, a man once described as “small in stature but giant in character”.
Robert L. Meeks was born March 23, 1890 in a one-room Missouri cabin and his family moved to Butler County, Ohio where his father was a produce merchant. He entered Miami at age 13 in its preparatory Academy. Even though he was not yet 16 and the youngest of the foundation members, he was elected secretary of the Non-Fraternity Association at its first meeting, 110 years ago today. He earned his A.B. degree from Miami in 1910 and an M.A. and school superintendent diploma from Columbia in 1916.
After teaching for a few years in Portsmouth and Scioto County, Ohio, he began a 44-year career with the Lakewood, Ohio schools in suburban Cleveland where he was assistant principal of Lakewood High School for 32 years, a firm disciplinarian and an insightful counselor.
Meeks was a charter member of Lakewood’s Clifton Masonic Lodge in 1920 and was known as a devout Christian, pacifist and liberal thinker. During World War II, he spoke out against the internment of Japanese-Americans in the western states, in reaction to which a bullet was shot through a window in his family’s home. He was an ardent worker for civil rights and was an early white member of the Cleveland NAACP. As a 73-year-old retiree in November 1963, he was jailed for trying to integrate St. Luke’s Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi, along with Rev. Woodie White, a black Detroit pastor who would become the Methodist bishop of Indiana. After his brief jail stay, he wrote to Martin Luther King, explaining that the experience had given him a unique opportunity to witness to others about his belief in equality.
He remained actively interested in the fraternity, attending alumni events and remaining in contact with Alpha Chapter. His badge is on display in the Heritage Room of the Executive offices in Oxford.
He married Ruth McClure Shafor in June 1913 and they had two sons: Shafor Leroy Meeks and Glenn Benton Meeks. He died at age 93 in December 1983 and was survived by one son, six grandchildren, 20 great grandchildren and one great-great granddaughter. Selfless to the end, his body was donated to science.