Robert “Bob” Relph, Sr., 84, formerly of Black River

BLACK RIVER, NY — Robert “Bob” Relph, Sr., 84, of Lakeland, FL, passed away February 25, 2019. In his final days, he was surrounded by his loving wife and children. He was also able to spend precious moments with many of his grandchildren who loved and adored him and were the light of his life. A favorite past time of his was following his grandchildren’s and great grandchildren’s sports and activities.

A memorial service celebrating a “Life Very Well Lived” will be held at Parkview Baptist Church, Lakeland, FL. On Saturday, March 2, at 11:00 a.m. Lunch will be served following the service for a time o fellowship and remembrances.

Vince Lombardi once said: “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” From nothing, he built a life and business that truly blessed so many. At the same time, he was humble and remembered and often talked about how thankful he was for the many people that helped him along
his life’s journey.

Born Aug. 8, 1934, in Geneva, NY, son of Arthur and Florence Palmer Relph, he attended schools in Rochester, NY. He joined the Marine Corps, Aug. 14, 1951, and was honorably discharged on Aug. 13,1954. He returned to Rochester where he attended Rochester Institute and received his associate’s degree in business.

He entered the life insurance business in 1955 with John Hancock where he quickly established himself as a top agent in his office. He was promoted to Staff Manager for John Hancock’s Batavia, NY office at the young age of 24. In 1963, Mutual of Omaha recruited him to their Watertown, NY office.

In 1965, his entrepreneurial spirit led him to strike out on his own and led him to establish the Relph Agency, which he owned and operated with his wife, Marion, until his retirement in 1997. Bob’s professional career epitomizes the “American Dream,” he was truly a self-made man! His legacy and the foundation he laid continues to this day through Relph Benefit Advisors, which grew to one of the 50 largest privately-owned employee benefit firms in the country and recently was a founding member of the Alera Group; the 7 th largest privately-owned employee benefit firm in the USA.

He married Elizabeth Graham of Rochester, NY, on Feb. 2, 1952 in Hornell, NY. She was killed in a car accident, March 10, 1964, months after moving his young family to Black River, NY. Bob married Marion Gorman on July 10, 1965, at the United Methodist Church in Black River, NY, where they lived for many years.

Bob was a member of New Hope Baptist in Watertown, NY and Parkview Baptist Church in Lakeland, Fl.  He taught Sunday School and his heart for youth led him to be involved as a teacher in his church’s Awana program and Vacation Bible School as recently as the spring of 2018. He also taught math and mentored residents of Lighthouse Ministries in Lakeland, for many years where he was affectionately known as “Mr. Bob.”

His strong commitment to community service was evident from his 40 plus years as an active member of Kiwanis, he served as president of both the Black River and Watertown clubs, was co-founder of the Gouverneur Kiwanis Club and the Carthage Key Club and served as lieutenant governor of the St. Lawrence Division. He served as a Cub Scout Leader, youth basketball and little league baseball coach in Black River. He also served on the Salvation Army Advisory Board and was co-founder and supporter of CareNet of Northern NY.

He took up golf later in life and became an avid golfer and enjoyed his time on the golf course with family and his many golfing buddies.

Bob was a member of the Watertown Chamber of Commerce, the Marine Corps League, and served as Chairman of the Jefferson Conservative Party.

He is survived by his wife, Marion E. Relph of Lakeland; a son and his wife, Robert, Jr. and Deirdre Relph, of Victor, NY; and three daughters and their husbands, Cheryl and Michael Melnick of Greece, NY; Karen and Gary Mehler of Lakeland, Fl.; and Robyn Relph, of Canandaigua, NY. A stepson and his wife Jack and Beth Gorman of Rotonda West, Fl.; two stepdaughters and husbands, Nancy and Eric Buzzell of Fort Douglas, NY and Cindy and Neil Cosgrove of Malone, NY; 21 grandchildren and 33 great grandchildren and half-brother Bill Peterson of New Mexico.

His heart was broken with the passing of his grandson, Shane Graham Bartholf of Pittsford, NY and great grandson Jonah Yaworski of Malone, NY; he was also predeceased by a half-brother John Peterson and sisters Mary Tarbox and Rosalie O’Brien.

A graveside service will be held at the Black River Cemetery in July 2019. The date and time will be posted to the Bruce Funeral Home website once final plans have been completed.

In lieu of flowers, please donate to your favorite charity or one of his mentioned above, in his memory.

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