ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
No one was more devoted to his diary than a Washington State man named Robert Shields. The one-time pastor died earlier this month at age 89. He left behind 91 boxes of diaries, a monument to meticulous, complete recordkeeping. Back in 1994, producer David Isay went to Reverend Shield's home. Here's an excerpt from that story.
(Soundbite of archived report)
Mr. DAVID ISAY (Creator, StoryCorps): Reverend Robert Shields of Dayton, Washington holds himself up in the small office off the back porch of his family's home, turns on his stereo and types. He is surrounded by a half dozen IBM Wheelwriters in case one of them breaks down from over-use.
Reverend ROBERT SHIELDS (Minister; Former English Teacher): I can do this.
Mr. ISAY: Shields spins around in his swivel chair.
Rev. SHIELDS: And get all six typewriters without getting up.
Mr. ISAY: Robert Shields is a short, round man with an impish grin, decked out in his customary writing garb, navy blue thermal underwear and a white T-shirt. Shields was a minister and high school English teacher in this picturesque Washington town, before devoting himself to his journal.
Rev. SHIELDS: My diary is complete.
Mr. ISAY: Shields is certainly not exaggerating. Over the past 20 years, he has typed between three and six-thousand words each day, keeping a record of everything that happens to him.
Rev. SHIELDS: The entire day is accounted for. I don't leave anything out. It started in at midnight and go through the next midnight, and every five minutes is accounted for - 12:20 to 12:25, I stripped to my thermals. I always do that. Drink 10 ounces of orange juice while I read the Oxford dictionary of quotations.
Mr. ISAY: Robert Shields types his diary in two perfect columns down sheets of eleven by fourteen inch paper, which he eventually binds into ledgers and stores in huge cartons, seventy-five of which are stacked to the ceiling just outside of his office.
Rev. SHIELDS: It's a tell all, show all. I type it as it come, and I don't correct it and I don't edit it.
Mr. ISAY: Do you read it?
Rev. SHIELDS: No, because if I read it I wouldn't have time to do anything else.
Mr. ISAY: Robert Shields says that he kept a diary on and off for much of his life, but it was not until 1972 that he began to keep this minute-by-minute record.
Rev. SHIELDS: I just kept going and then I thought, well, I don't want to stop now. And I kept going and I don't want to stop it now, and I just kept it up.
Mr. ISAY: Why are you doing this?
Rev. SHIELDS: It's an obsession. That's all I can say. It's an obsession.
Mr. ISAY: It is somewhat disconcerting to see the extent to which this task has taken over the life of Reverend Robert Shields, chaining him to his typewriter on this endless endeavor. Shields, it seems, is so busy documenting the insignificant minutia of his life that he has become oblivious to everything else going on around him.
Rev. SHIELDS: 3:05 to 3:30: I read the Tri-City Herald. Humidity: 51 and a half. Porch temperature: 56 degrees. Porch floor temperature: 51 degrees. The study temperature: 77 degrees. And the door temperature in the study on the door jam: 74 degrees. 3:25 to 4:30: I typed the diary from…
SIEGEL: The Reverend Robert Shields. David Isay paid him that visit 13 years ago. In the intervening years, the Reverend Shields suffered several strokes which forced him to curtail his diary-keeping. Shields died earlier this month at age 89. Before his death, he donated all his journals to Washington State University. They will remain sealed for 50 years.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.