The Reverend Thomas Fitch Kepler of Arlington Massachusetts died peacefully asleep at his home on April 30, 2022, after having led a long, varied, and full life. All who knew him will remember his deep devotion to the cause of peace. They will remember both his compassionate kindness to others and his fiery opposition to injustice. They will remember his sharp wit, penetrating intellect, and extraordinary command of the English language. They will remember his rich baritone voice, singing hymns, folk songs, or oratorios, as well as delivering sermons.
Among those who will remember him most dearly are his wife, Patricia Budd Kepler, and his three sons: Thomas Kepler and wife Grace Martinelli Kepler, James Kepler and former wife Lisa Kepler, John Kepler and wife Martha Erickson; his grandchildren Lenora, Kieran and wife Alyssa, Manda and husband Brian; James and fiance Erica, Alyssa and partner Jake; Alana, and April; and his two great-grandchildren, Addalyn and Atlas; his brother, William and wife LuEllen; , and all of his nieces, nephews, grand-nieces, and grand-nephews., and dear friends.
Tom was born in Changsha, China, on 16 November 1933, the son of missionaries, Raymond Kepler and Margaret Blain Kepler, themselves China-born children of missionaries, as were Tom’s older brother Mercer (1931-2019), and his younger brother John (1938-2005). The youngest brother William, was born in the U.S. (1942). Tom attended Shangai American School and made the long sail between the U.S. and China several times before returning to the U.S. permanently with the rest of the family following the Chinese Revolution of 1949.
After graduating as valedictorian from the Mount Hermon School, he studied at Yale and then at Princeton Theological Seminary where he earned his MDiv and ThM degrees. It is there that he met his classmate Patricia Budd. He was ordained to Christian Ministry in the United Presbyterian Church USA in 1958 and served as the pastor of the first Presbyterian Church of Englishtown, NJ. Soon after the Presbyterian Church voted to allow the ordination of women, Pat was made pastor of Westminster Presbyterian in Manalapan, NJ and Tom and Pat became the first married clergy members in the Presbyterian Church.
He entered the Ministry at a time in history when the Civil Rights Movement was on the rise. And he, like his father who was a minister with a parish in the south, espoused a faith which stood for justice for all, and the equality of all. Under Tom’s leadership, the Englishtown church built a new educational wing and celebrated its centennial. He was instrumental in developing new childhood and adult education programs, engaged in pastoral care, became involved in the wider church and community, and in civil rights advocacy. He and Pat were active in the local Theater Company, where he, among other things, acted in Rashomon.
Toward the end of his eighth year serving the parish, both his own and Pat’s fathers died unexpectedly in close succession and Tom reevaluated his life’s work. He chose to engage more directly with the educational component of his ministry, becoming a teacher at the Vanguard School, first in their Florida campus, and then in Haverford, Pennsylvania. He continued to serve churches on weekends and to lead church summer music camps.
Thomas Kepler pursued this “tent-making” ministry for the rest of his life, doing secular work during the week and serving churches on weekends. After so much moving in his early days, he settled down for the last fifty years in Arlington, MA, where he was a member of Boston Presbytery. As a member of the Presbytery and the wider church he became involved in Palestinian liberation issues and peace in the Middle East. He had close ties to friends in churches in Kenya, Ethiopia, Cameroon, and Korea.
While in the Boston area, he worked in senior services, in banking, in assessing, and at General Electric. He pastored churches in Somerville, Lynn, East Boston, and Hingham where he was Pastor at New North Church for ten years. In retirement, he and his wife served churches in Easton and Waltham. He was Pastor Emeritus at Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church in Somerville, where Pat is still Minister Emerita.
A Memorial Service is being held at Clarendon Hill Presbyterian on September 10, 2022 at 1:00 PM.
“And what does anyone require of me, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to know that I’m no better than anyone else.” –Thomas F. Kepler
(In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church for their Peace and Justice Circle, 155 Powerhouse Blvd. Somerville, MA 02144)