When they were students, Buddy Protinsky ‘67 asked Bob Warren ‘67 a question that would impact Warren’s entire law career.
“Bud Protinsky asked me how I could call myself Christian when two-thirds of Allendale County is Black and poor and don’t go to my church,” Warren said. “That question got me thinking in a different way because I came from a privileged White society that didn’t recognize the changing social norms of allowing African Americans to go to White churches. I gradually changed my worldview, but Bud was ahead of the curve because he had grown up in St Petersburg, Florida.”
Warren’s parents raised him to have strong morals and values at a time and place when having strong morals and values often challenged social norms: the South during segregation.
Warren’s father owned a drug store in Allendale, South Carolina, and always greeted his customers, black and white, with a friendly greeting. According to Black Mountain News, Warren’s father also gave African-American customers water in paper cups for free and often respectfully addressed them as “Professor” or “Reverend” This often upset some of the white customers in Warren’s father’s store. From an early age, Warren learned that treating others with respect sometimes challenged the status quo.
Early Days at PC
When he arrived on campus as a freshman, Warren already knew he wanted to serve others after he graduated. He just wasn’t quite sure which career he’d pursue. Warren’s brother, Tommy, set an example for Bob, and was the reason he chose PC. Tommy, 10 years older than Bob, played football for the Blue Hose. Bob learned about the College by coming to his brother’s games.
Tommy took pre-med classes and went on to become a doctor in rural Allendale. Bob followed in his brother’s footsteps by taking pre-med courses at first.
“(Tommy) practiced medicine in Allendale for about fifty years because he felt like he was serving a need,” Bob said. “He never pressured me to be a doctor, but I wanted to be like him, so I chose the law as somewhere I could serve.”
Bob changed his major from pre-med to English and set his sights on law school. He served as president of Student Council when he was a senior and played football, like his brother, all four years.
Bob’s professors and fellow students helped shape the type of lawyer he’d become. He said Protinsky specifically helped him “focus on the real world regarding race.”
“Like many students, my epiphany about race evolved gradually as I came to understand the unfairness of the system,” Bob said, “and discussions with other students and faculty brought me around to do what is right regarding race relations.”
Fighting for Justice
After he graduated, Bob served in the Army for two years and then went to the University of South Carolina to earn a master’s of business administration degree and a law degree. He graduated in 1972.
With law degree in hand, he moved back home to Allendale and took on civil rights cases from the start. In one of his earliest cases, he investigated the death of an 18-year-old African-American who had been shot and killed in Allendale County in 1970.
Bob represented the NAACP in this case and many others throughout his career. He stood up for several Native American tribes over the years. Bob traveled with members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to Washington, DC to search the National Archives for the tribe’s original constitution.
In addition to defending those who had been discriminated against, Bob represented poor people and injured workers. He often worked for little or no pay. Bob spent 10 years fighting for benefits for Savannah River Site workers. He was finally able to persuade the federal government to provide some of these workers with benefits they’d been denied.
“I was always committed to helping poor people get through the system, and I still believe in the mission of legal services for poor people,” Bob told Black Mountain News. “If the Constitution doesn’t apply to one person, then all the people are in danger of losing their rights.”
Recognition for a Life of Service
Bob has been recognized throughout his career for fighting for the poor and oppressed. The many awards he’s received include the ACLU of South Carolina Civil Libertarian Award in 1979 and the Asheville-Buncombe United Public Workers Local Union Award in 1999.
Last year, PC recognized Bob with the Thomas Aurelius Stallworth ’55 Alumni award for embodying the characteristics of Stallworth’s Christian leadership, strong, bold character, integrity, moral courage, and values.
Bob has been in the limelight for the work he’s done. But he says he’s just one of many PC alumni who have lived a life of service.
“Students from the class of 1967 at PC have made a difference in society by simply doing what is right,” he said. “When you are a student, you have interactions as students, and those interactions influence you in ways you can’t realize until later in life. PC has given me the ground rules that dominate my decisions, and I’m sure others feel that way also.”
This article appears in the Spring 2018 issue of the Presbyterian College Magazine. Please see the digital version of the magazine to read more stories about PC alumni, students, and professors.