In Memoriam: Robert Thomas (Bob) Shircliff

In Memoriam: Robert Thomas (Bob) Shircliff
The entire Shircliff family. Front row: George Pope, Max Collie, Billy Pope, Patrick Collie, Robert Shircliff, and Carol Shircliff. Back row: Judson Collie, Graham Roberts, David Collie, Luke Pope, Tricia Collie, Laura Howell, Bill Howell, Caroline Roberts, Caroline Pope, Brad Roberts, Reed Roberts, Alden Howell and Meghan Green

May 20, 1928 to January 2, 2020

Bob Shircliff, the man known for saying, “there is no right way to do the wrong thing,” peacefully passed away January 2 at age 91, leaving Jacksonville without one of its greatest philanthropists and civic leaders.

“Others have said it and I concur, Bob Shircliff really was Jacksonville’s leading citizen, both in business, philanthropy and culture,” said Richard Sisisky, his business partner and long-time friend. “He really was the go-to guy in town if you needed opinions or needed to raise money. He was an indispensable resource for Jacksonville.”

Carol and Robert Shircliff
Carol and Robert Shircliff

A longtime Riverside resident, Shircliff grew up in the small town of Vincennes, Indiana. He received his education at Culver Military Academy and Indiana University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and wrote about sports for the Indiana Daily Student.  He also learned about business early at the elbow of his father, who purchased a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant when he was young. Throughout high school and college he worked for his father’s company part-time and during the summer.

A member of senior ROTC both in high school and college, Shircliff joined the United States Army Reserve in 1950 during his senior year in college and served in the military until 1963, when he retired as a Captain in military intelligence. After graduation, he joined his father’s company and began his long career in the beverage industry.

It was Pepsi that led Shircliff to Jacksonville in 1967, when he purchased the bottling plant in the city. During his tenure with the soda manufacturer, Shircliff was elected as president of the Pepsi-Cola Allied Bottlers, Inc., and also president of the National Pepsi-Cola Bottlers Association, a position that had previously been held by his father.

Shircliff ultimately sold his bottling company to General Cinema Corporation where he served on the board and oversaw 12 of its subsidiaries for nearly six years before starting his own consulting firm, Robert T. Shircliff Associates. Later his business was renamed The Shircliff Group, and then later as The Shircliff-Sisisky Company.  Shircliff met his partner, Richard Sisisky, when he did some work for the Sisisky family in Petersburg, Virginia, and eventually lured him to Jacksonville to join him in business. “He’s the one who sang the siren song, but it didn’t take much convincing,” Sisisky recalled. “I was 32 years old and ready to go.”

Shircliff served on the boards of numerous business entities, including Shoney’s Inc., Alliance Mortgage Corporation, Atlantic National Bank of Jacksonville and Everbank Financial Corporation. He was a proud Rotarian for more than 60 years and a charter member and former president of the Rotary Club of West Jacksonville. He also served as the youngest Rotary International District Governor.

But that was not all. He served as “Mr. Chairman” or “Mr. President” to so many groups, said Sisisky, and it is hard to think of a civic or philanthropic organization he was not involved with. A few that he worked tirelessly for included the River Club, Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Jacksonville Speech & Hearing Center, the American Red Cross of Duval County, the United Way of Northeast Florida, The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, the Advisory Board of I.M. Sulzbacher Center for the Homeless, Jacksonville Symphony Association, the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens, and Jacksonville University, where he spent 23 years on the board and was chairman of two successful capital campaigns. At one point, Shircliff estimated that he helped to raise nearly $300 million to benefit the Jacksonville community over a period of 45 years, while always stipulating that each campaign was a “group effort.”

“He had a very diverse portfolio, but it was always about helping people that needed help. It wasn’t charity for its own sake,” said Sisisky.

Former St. Vincent’s Foundation President Jane Lanier with Robert Shircliff
Former St. Vincent’s Foundation President Jane Lanier with Robert Shircliff

“His legacy was the way he thought about everyone. He always saw the good in everyone,” said his longtime friend, Jane Lanier. “One time in an interview, he said that one of the best kept secrets in Jacksonville was that there are so many kind and generous people living here. He was always turning any accolades away from himself and onto other people. He really felt that way. He saw the best in everyone.”

Sisisky agreed. “His legacy for the community was that you really can do well while doing good. When he was talking to you, Bob made you feel like you were the most important person in the world. It’s a great gift. I wish I had it,” he said, noting that Shircliff loved to give and loved helping others to give.

Many people in Jacksonville considered Shircliff to be their best friend because he made people feel that way, said Lanier. “He was a great listener. For so many people, no matter what career they had, they would come to Bob for advice, and Bob would really care and help them to succeed.”

“Bob led an exemplary life and if you did it the Shircliff Way, which is the right way, then you would be a better person,” Sisisky said. “Everything about him made him special. He was smart, honest, ethical. He led a just and righteous life. He was a great example of how to move gracefully throughout your life. He was considerate of others and very good in business. He taught me an enormous amount, both personally and professionally.”

A devout Catholic, Shircliff’s faith proved to be his lifelong compass, directing him to do God’s work throughout his life, said Lanier. “Bob lived his faith in everything he did. His Catholic faith was just a part of him. The right thing to do was what he always did.”

Shircliff was a member of St. Matthew’s Catholic Parish for 53 years. He worked tirelessly for St. Vincent’s Healthcare in Riverside, which is now known as Ascension St. Vincent’s, giving and raising millions for the hospital. He served as chairman of St. Vincent’s Health System and its Medical Center Advisory Board, was founding chairman of the St. Vincent’s Foundation, vice-chair of Baptist St. Vincent’s Health System, and was director of the Daughters of Charity National Health System.

He also founded the Order of Malta Federal Association in Jacksonville and was its very first hospitaller. “The organization is a Catholic lay organization where you take formal vows, and you belong for only two reasons, to serve God and to serve the sick and the poor,” Lanier said. As part of the order, Shircliff also took great joy in serving gravely ill “maladies” during its yearly pilgrimages to Lourdes.

In addition to chairing the Catholic Foundation and the Diocesan Stewardship Committee of the Diocese of St. Augustine, he played a role in founding both organizations and co-chaired a capital campaign to build two new Catholic high schools in the diocese. He also supported Guardian Catholic School and its predecessor, Guardian of Dreams.

Although Shircliff appreciated receiving many awards during his lifetime, including Philanthropist of the Year and National Volunteer Fundraiser of the Year from the National Society of Fundraising Executives, perhaps the most meaningful was when he and his wife, Carol, were inducted as affiliates of the Daughters of Charity, said Lanier. He also received a Heritage Award from the Daughters of Charity National Health Systems, and in 2001, Pope John Paul II presented Shircliff with the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Cross, a decoration of the Holy See conferred for distinguished service to the Catholic Church.

When the City of Jacksonville renamed the street in front of St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Riverside Shircliff Way, it had a double meaning, said Lanier, who retired last year as president of the St. Vincent’s Healthcare Foundation. She noted that Shircliff was never seen without his bowtie, and when the street in front of St. Vincent’s Medical Center was renamed in 2007, every celebrant donned a bowtie, including the Daughters of Charity nuns, and a bowtie was imprinted on the street sign.

“The street is named Shircliff Way because there is only one way and that is the right way,” said Sisisky. “Bob didn’t take ethical short cuts. Even when it was difficult, he always told the truth.”

It is for that reason Shircliff Way continues to provide inspiration to patients and staff at St. Vincent’s, even though its namesake is no longer here. “We saw his love and support for St. Vincent’s as ‘The Shircliff Way,’” said Lanier. “That street reminds us every day how we should act and who we should care for – the sick and the poor – because that was the Shircliff Way.”

Shircliff is survived by beloved wife, Carol, with whom he shared two daughters, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren during his 67-year marriage. “He was the example of a great husband and a great father,” said Lanier. “He often said his proudest accomplishment was marrying Carol.”

And Carol often worked alongside him when he made it his mission to help others. During a hurricane a few years ago, Shircliff and his wife headed to St. Vincent’s where they folded laundry and put up food trays to assist the staff, when so many employees were unable to make it to work, Lanier recalled.

Carol and Robert Shircliff with the Daughters of Charity at St. Vincent’s
Carol and Robert Shircliff with the Daughters of Charity at St. Vincent’s

Every Christmas Eve, he made a point of stopping by each nurses’ station at St. Vincent’s so he could greet the nurses and wish them a Merry Christmas. “He would thank them for coming to work on Christmas Eve. He would say that ‘it means so much to have a great nurse and thank you for being here,’” she remembered.

Perhaps Bishop Felipe J. Estévez of the Diocese of St. Augustine said it best when he recalled, “Bob Shircliff was so admirable. He radiated true love as he was so selfless and caring. His heart reached so many in a most gracious way.”

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