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Robert W. Shields, 89, a preacher who kept a 37.5 million-word diary

NEW YORK - The Rev. Robert W. Shields - a preacher and teacher who for a quarter-century spent four hours a day recording his life in five-minute segments, from changing light bulbs to pondering God to visiting the bathroom - died Oct. 15 at his home in Dayton, Wash.

The result of his effort was a 37.5-million-word diary, perhaps the most verbose one ever.

The cause of his death was a heart attack, said his daughter, Klara Hicks.

Rev. Shields was 89, and little more than a decade had passed since his second stroke ended his ability to type. He said in an interview with National Public Radio in 1994 that stopping the diary would be like "turning off my life."

He knocked out 3 million words in his best years, a million in slow ones. Guinness World Records does not address diary word lengths, but said the longest diary, measured in duration, was done over 91 years by Colonel Ernest Loftus of Harare, Zimbabwe.

Rev. Shields's 37.5 million words apparently exceeded the more than 21 million in the colorful diary of Edward Robb Ellis, a newspaperman who died in 1998, and the 17 million words of Arthur Crew Inman, a reclusive poet who died in 1963. The 17th-century London diary of Samuel Pepys was 1.25 million words.

Rev. Shields's diary may not be read - or subjected to a word count - for 50 years by the terms under which he gave it to Washington State University in 1999. And as blogs threaten to revolutionize the very concept of a diary, who knows if someone has written an even more prolix, but still-secret diary?

What seems certain is that Rev. Shields believed that nothing truly happened to him unless he wrote it down.

He regularly recorded his body temperature and blood pressure; critiqued newspapers; and described all the junk mail he got and the cost of almost everything he bought. He had three-dozen ways, none obscene, to describe his urinations, all recorded. He slept in two-hour stretches in order to record his dreams.

He mimicked inventor Buckminster Fuller, who documented his life in what he called a chronofile by pasting letters, bills and all manner of pieces of paper in a huge scrapbook for 68 years. Among other things, Rev. Shields taped nasal hair into his diary for DNA study by future scientists.

He said he did not know why he started keeping a diary in 1972. He just knew he could not stop.

"You might say I'm a nut," he said in an interview with The Sunday Oregonian in 1996. "We are driven by compulsions we don't know."

Rev. Shields said he hoped historians would find his minutiae meaningful.

"Maybe by looking into someone's life at that depth, every minute of every day, they'll find out something about all people," he said in an interview with The Seattle Times in 1994. "I don't know. No way to tell."

Robert William Shields was born in Seymour, Ind. His father was a speed-typing champion who could type the Gettysburg Address over and over at 222 words a minute. He began a diary at 17, mainly to chart a romance, but lost interest.

He graduated from Franklin College in Indiana and attended several divinity schools before being ordained as a Protestant minister. He served congregations in Indiana, New Hampshire, and Iowa before he tired of church politics. He moved to South Dakota and became a high school English teacher.

He paid bills by teaching, working for a high-school yearbook company, and doctoring books for vanity presses. Less lucratively, he wrote an unpublished history of a train-robbing gang, and 1,200 poems, of which he said five, maybe six, were good.

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