Updated with link to the Requiem Mass (below).
FRONT ROYAL, Virginia (LifeSiteNews) — Robert David Hickson, Jr., of Front Royal, Virginia died at his home on September 2, 2023, at 21:29 PM after several months of suffering and after having received the last rites of the Catholic Church. He was surrounded by friends and family.
Robert is survived by me—his wife Maike, his eight children with first wife Sharon (Mary Pat Smey [Robert]; Elizabeth Frappier; Kristin Uhlenkott [Paul]; Bridget; Anna-Sofie; Peter [Melissa]; David [Linda]; and Erik [Kaitlyn]), our two children (Isabella and Robert), his 27 grandchildren, his brother Ronald and sister-in-law Louise, and their three children (Karl, Laura, and Joseph).
My husband was born during a snowstorm on December 29, 1942, in Baltimore, Maryland and raised by his beloved mother Muriel Agnes in Margate City, New Jersey. He, his mother, and his younger brother Ronald Hall endured the loss of his little “Irish twin” brother, Richard Arnold.
Robert grew up by the Atlantic Ocean, attending Atlantic City High School, and was a passionate lifeguard and surfer as well as an accomplished athlete. He graduated from United States Military Academy West Point in June 1964 and was assigned to Southeast Asia. After a year, he became a U.S. Army Special Forces Officer and earned his “3-prefix” as a Green Beret, having already completed Parachute School and Ranger School and certain forms of Naval Commando training.
After tours in Vietnam and elsewhere in Asia, Robert taught at the J.F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center in North Carolina as the Head of the East Asian Seminar and Instructor in Military History and Irregular Warfare.
He acquired his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Classics (Greco-Roman) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with an emphasis on Ancient Philosophy and Medieval Literature (including theological texts).
In the 1980s, Robert was Professor and Chairman of the Literature and Latin Department at Christendom College for seven years before returning to Military and Strategic-Cultural Studies. He became a professor at the Joint Military Intelligence College (former Defense Intelligence College), a graduate school in the U.S. Intelligence Community at the Defense Intelligence Agency (D.I.A.) in Washington, D.C. He taught Foreign Area and National Security Studies, Military History and Strategy, Moral Philosophy and other subjects.
Robert was then invited to the Air Force Academy for four years as a Professor in the William Simon Chair of Strategy and Culture, teaching in several academic departments. He concluded his Federal Service as a Professor of Strategic and Cultural Studies, as well as Military History and National Security Studies, at the Joint Special Operations University in Florida, a part of the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Comparative cultural and strategic-historical studies constituted a unifying theme in these various forms of teaching over the years.
My husband’s life was permeated by his Catholic faith, which he shared with many people. With his passion for Christ, he touched many lives, helped many to enter the Catholic Church, defended Catholic doctrine, and drew Catholics deeper into the faith by presenting, over the course of 40 years, good Catholic literature from all over the world. He brought me into the Catholic Church, something for which I will be eternally grateful. He taught me to pray the rosary.
He was a man of learning and of laughter, full of life and energy.
Robert was so dedicated to the defense of life he helped to edit, in an influential manner, an important Life Bill under President Ronald Reagan. Children were always so close to my husband’s heart. He often said, with tears in his eyes, that the hardest thing for him in Vietnam was seeing the suffering—and even the deaths—of children. Robert loved babies and often said in conversations, “Let us not forget the little ones.”
Late in life, Robert taught his youngest two children how to read, sitting down with them every day and going through the reading material. He read to them—and me—for hours in the winter months, and thus Isabella and Robby knew Odysseus and Aeneas from an early age. They also learned to recite the poems of Hilaire Belloc.
Robert asked that we put on his gravestone the following quote from French Catholic novelist Georges Bernanos: “Blessed be he who has saved a child’s heart from despair.”
In the end of his life, stricken with dementia, he became like a child.
My husband adhered to the Faith of all Ages. He rejected the drastic changes within the Church during and after the Second Vatican Council and stayed true to Christ’s teaching. He did not care for human respect; it was what Christ thought that counted.
God gave Robert many gifts. He was the strongest man, physically and intellectually, I ever met, an opinion shared, I discovered, by one of his boyhood friends. But Robert used these gifts solely in the service of the truth. He was one of the few intellectuals in this country who did not bend his mind and argument to fit the narrative of the moment. His deep learning rooted him in eternal truth and wisdom.
Practically, that meant that Robert preferred to remain isolated in many Catholic circles rather than to praise developments out of Rome that went contrary to 2,000 years of the Church’s traditions.
It also meant that he, then a professor at the Joint Special Operations University in Florida, opposed the plan to invade Iraq and questioned the then-flourishing concepts of nation-building in Muslim countries and of the global “War on Terror.” (He would say, “How can one have a war on a method?”)
“What are the war aims and the peace aims?” he kept asking generals, strategists, and other military personnel during those early years. Had our country listened to him, our sons and the civilians of such countries as Iraq, as well as of our nation, would have been spared much suffering and death.
I am proud of my husband for taking his stance when it was not fashionable to oppose the war drums.
He also, in the 1990s, warned his country against the development and use of bioweapons. He was crucial in raising awareness among the military about bioweapons used in food crops.
I am not aware that Robert Hickson ever had to correct his writings. He had nothing to recant. He stayed the course. He fought the good fight. He was a moral conscience to his country, based on the firm convictions of his Catholic faith and his belief in the Incarnation of Christ and all that flows from it.
God has a human face. And that face suffered for us.
It is of special importance to us as a family that God allowed Robert in his final weeks on this earthly life to be so weakened in his mind that his face, too, suffered. He repeatedly, in his last weeks, covered his face with a cloth. This brought tears into my eyes because I had prayed every day a prayer for my husband’s holy death, offering up to God the Father the Holy Face of Jesus.
This great mind and intellect, with all of his physical beauty and strength, was in the end reduced to his heart. Despite his late dementia, Robert always responded to someone reaching out with his heart. He squeezed hands, smiled, blessed, prayed, and said, “Thank you” and “God bless you.” It was a truly inspiring witness of his faith, but even more so an example of God’s goodness. God wanted to teach us about the importance of the heart, of His own Sacred Heart who loved us so much that He died for us.
Robert died on a First Saturday, wearing the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He had prayed the Rosary loyally and after periods of illness caught up on the missed decades later. I always knew that Our Lady would be at his side in his moment of death.
My husband died under a painting of the deathbed of St. Joseph. In the portrait, Joseph has Jesus and Mary at his side, and Jesus is pointing up towards heaven to God the Father and God the Holy Ghost.
We as his family deeply hope that when Robert died, he was surrounded by the Holy Trinity and the Holy Family. Requiescat in pace.
We derive great consolation from the fact that three priests were at his side on his day of death, and that numerous families and friends had stopped by to say good-bye. It was truly an inspiring holy death.
Thank you, Robert, for everything you have been and for everything you have given us. We love you, and we miss you!
The Visitation will be held on Friday, September 8 from 5:00 PM until 7:00 PM at the Enders and Shirley Funeral Home on 1050 West Main Street, Berryville, VA 22611. The Mass of Christian Burial will offered on Saturday, September 9 at 11 AM at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, 1208 Archbishop Lefebvre Avenue, Dillwyn, VA, 23936. We will follow in procession to the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary Cemetery immediately following the Mass.
Flowers are welcome. If mourners prefer, they can send donations in Robert Hickson’s honor to Thomas Aquinas Seminary. The burial will be followed by a lunch reception to which all are welcome. So that we may provide enough refreshments for all mourners, please RSVP here.
Readers are welcome to join in prayers at Saturday’s 11 AM Requiem here:
Maike Hickson and Family
For Robert’s writings, please check the following websites: ordodei.net (our family website); Catholicism.org; loretopubs.org, where he has published several collections of his essays; the last one is still to be published this year.