Rev. J. Charles Brock leaves lasting legacy
Rev. J. Charles Brock, the Erie-born Oxford scholar who came back to his hometown to make a profound difference, died Wednesday, Nov. 1, at his home. He was 88.
Rev. Brock was a founder and leading benefactor of the Jefferson Educational Society, where he directed the Brock Institute of Mega Issues Education, served on the Jefferson board, and as board secretary. He also founded Penn State Behrend’s Public Policy Fund and the Institute of American Dream while also serving as pastor of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Girard for the past twenty years.
Rev. Brock’s life of religion, scholarship, philanthropy, and adventure took him all over the world. After college and graduate school at Carnegie Mellon and Harvard universities, he studied, served as chaplain, and taught at Oxford University for 35 years.
“Why did Charlie Brock come back to town?” asked his lifelong friend Tom Hagen when he presented the Dignitas Award, the Jefferson’s highest honor, to him in 2022. “Charlie has said more than once that he decided to come back to Erie because this is the city that helped his family build its business. Charlie’s grandfather, J.A. Zurn, founded Zurn Industries, which became a world-renowned enterprise.”
“For all of the incredible things Charlie Brock has done in his life, he’d probably give it all up to be the lead clarinet player in a Manhattan jazz band,” Mr. Hagen went on. “Or to be a traveling minstrel playing folk songs up and down the Appalachian hills.” He was that down to earth and approachable to everyone.
JES President Ferki Ferati described Rev. Brock as “the backbone of the Jefferson Educational Society and a true gentleman.” “While this is a dark day for the Jefferson community, we will forever be inspired by Rev. Brock’s spirit, kindness, and can-do philosophy.”
Born John Charles Brock on April 27, 1935, he attended Longfellow, Harding, and Strong Vincent high school, where he was president of the Student Council and remained active in alumni matters. He held degrees from Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, and Oxford universities.
After active duty with the National Guard, he worked at Erie Art Metal for two years, his stepfather's factory. After Harvard Divinity School, he went to Oxford University in England for further study and stayed on for 35 years as Fellow, Chaplain, and university teacher in theology at the university. He was in charge of ministerial education at Mansfield College, Oxford, while also serving as minister of Wheatley United Reformed Church. He was very active in village life and national denominational activities. He led many conferences in England and lectured in Japan.
At Oxford, Rev. Brock helped his college, which was originally a seminary, to become a full college of Oxford University. He was described by Oxford officials as a “colorful and liberal chaplain, epitomized the atmosphere of change in his spiritual generosity and mischievous sense of humor. The ease of passage of the college into a new relationship with its religious origins was due in no small part to his vision.”
After retirement, he returned to Erie and started the Institute of the America Dream at Behrend, where he also taught courses on comparative religion and with former Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper a course for the politics department. In addition to his work at First Unitarian. Universalist Church, he sponsored the first chair in Humanities named the Erie Art Metal Professorship of Integrative Humanities at Behrend. He also funded the John Milton Fellowship at Oxford and lectured on Milton and Thomas Jefferson at Oxford most recently in 2022.
Rev. Brock was a social member of the National Club (to keep up his interest in Erie’s Little Italy), Polish Falcons Nest 123 (where he played in the marching band during high school), the German clubs Erie Maennerchor, Siebenbuerger, Saxon Singing Society (his old neighborhood club), and the Oxford & Cambridge University Club of London.
He enjoyed Friday lunches at the round table of the Erie Club with “the notorious nine”, as they discussed “political grease, gossip, and God in descending order.” Free lunches at Mansfield College, Oxford, were appreciated during his annual three-month sojourn in England.
Rev. Brock was preceded in death by his parents, Arloween Zurn Brock Todd and Ralph Brock, his stepfather Carl Knobloch, and his first wife, Carolyn Dexter Brock.
He is survived by his wife, Mary Lincoln Brock; stepchildren Samantha Lincoln (Scott Gezymalla), Jeremy Lincoln (Liz Dwyer Lincoln), and Andrew Lincoln (Amanda Schantz Lincoln); and nine step grandchildren, all of whom loved him dearly. Also surviving are his cousin (like a brother) James Zurn and his wife Gerry, and many cousins and dear friends in America and England.
Friends may call on Friday, Nov. 3 at the Burton Quinn-Scott Funeral Home, West Ridge, 3801 W. 26th St., Erie, PA 16506 from 1 to 3 p.m., and 5 to 7 p.m., and are invited to the funeral service at the Cathedral of St. Paul, at 134 W. Seventh St., Erie, PA 16501, at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 4.
Memorials may be made in Rev. Brock’s honor to the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Girard, the Jefferson Educational Society, Penn State Erie / Brock Institute on Education and Democracy, or a charity of one’s choosing.