Remembering Bill Mallard
One of Candler’s longest-serving and best-loved professors, William Mallard, professor emeritus of church history, died on December 23. He was 87 years old. He is survived by his wife, Gatra, three adult children, and five grandchildren.
Mallard served on Candler’s faculty for 43 years, from 1957-2000, during which time he shaped the lives of thousands of students, along with the school’s culture and curriculum.
Fellow faculty member David Pacini, professor of historical theology, offers this remembrance:
Professor. Mentor. Husband. Father. Friend. Rapscallion. Radical. Pastor. Provocateur. Scholar. Singer. Song-leader. Bill Mallard was a formative presence in the lives of thousands of people, spanning several generations. Our beloved teacher, esteemed colleague, and inspired mentor William Mallard, professor emeritus of church history at Candler School of Theology, died on December 23.
Bill joined Candler’s faculty in 1957, having previously taught religion at Sweetbriar College in Virginia. After receiving his bachelor of arts from Randolph Macon College in 1949, and a bachelor of divinity from Duke Divinity School in 1952, Bill pursued his Ph.D. at Duke, where he completed his dissertation on the English scholastic theologian John Wycliffe. In addition to his academic pursuits, Bill was an ordained elder of The United Methodist Church, serving in full connection in the Virginia Conference.
Bill was a member of the robust faculty cohort that included Ted Weber, Hendrikus Boers, Manfred Hoffmann, and Ted Runyon, who were instrumental in Candler’s early involvement in Civil Rights, modern theology and human rights, as well as in the course of events that led to the appointment of James T. Laney as dean of the School of Theology. He was also a driving force in the Graduate Division of Religion, and an animating presence in the Common Core Seminars. His scholarly interests included Scripture and the history of the Christian church, theology and literature, and Augustine. His books included The Reflection of Theology in Literature: A Case Study in Theology and Culture (1977) and Language and Love: Introducing Augustine’s Religious Thought through the Confessions Story (1994).
During the early years of his tenure at Candler, Bill explored with Tom Altizer many of the implications of the radical theology of the sixties (oftentimes in late night debates at Jagger’s Restaurant in Emory Village), and took numerous courageous stands in defense of the theologian’s right and duty to take seriously the ideas of Altizer and other radical theologians and to learn from what they had to say. He was also indefatigable in the pursuit of new theological perspectives, including Black Liberation Theology, which led him to direct the doctoral work of Cecil Cone. A keen intellect with a probing analytical mind that could see around the corners of issues, Bill was eventually drawn to the theological perspective of Yale theologian Hans Frei, finding Frei’s linking of New Criticism and biblical study a welcome perspective that Bill pursued through numerous seminars on Theology and Literature. He adapted this perspective to the effective teaching of Scripture and church history in churches and United Methodist conferences across the country. His popularity as a lecturer was unrivaled, as he combined patience, warmth, intelligence and wit in his portrayal of Christian commitment.
Bill’s accessible teaching style and commitment to the development of his students’ minds and hearts remain legendary. For example, he enthusiastically supported the appointment of Chuck Gerkin and the establishment of the Supervised Ministry Program, in which he labored tirelessly. Perhaps his contribution to Candler and its students is illustrated most clearly by the course he co-taught with Roberta Bondi, the History of Christian Thought (origins to Medieval period). Their practice of opening each class with a full-throated rendition of “Give Me that Old Time Religion” won the hearts of many a Candler student who otherwise might not have found the intricacies of early Christian church history anywhere near as enticing as they did. One could frequently hear Bill’s boisterous laughter resounding through the corridors of Bishops Hall in conversation with students and colleagues, and no one passed him without enjoying the twinkle in his eye and the shamelessly happy smile that beamed the joy he felt within him. Doubtless this is why so many alumni sought him out both at Candler and in Methodist gatherings across the country.
A stalwart member of Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church, Bill was a regular at the 5:05 service until the end of his life, as well as a frequent preacher and teacher of adult Sunday school classes, and a forceful presence as song-leader at the Christmas Eve carol service.
Devoted husband to Gatra and father of three adult children, Reid, Winn, and Rob, and five grandchildren, Bill’s commitments to family were especially well-known to his colleagues with whom he taught: only after his evening conversation with Gatra would the inevitable phone call come from Bill about the outstanding preparations that still needed to be completed before the next day’s class. Yet nothing could surpass the importance of family, and nothing represented the sanctity of family more than Bill and Gatra’s retreat in the mountains of North Carolina. Indeed, his robust commitment to family extended to those without family, whom he and Gatra warmly embraced in their fold as full family members over the course of their lives.
We often think of lifetimes from the perspective of the exceptional and uncommon. Bill taught us that our lives happen between the memorable, amidst the commonplace, the white of winter among the colorless, where we visit the possible, often with a song of the Lord upon our lips.