Gene TuckerGene M. Tucker (January 8, 1935–January 4, 2018) taught Old Testament at Candler School of Theology from the fall of 1970 until his retirement in the spring of 1995. By that time he had long been recognized as a warm and engaging teacher, an accomplished scholar, and a highly respected colleague with extraordinary administrative skills. But these abstract descriptions don’t begin to capture who he was or what he meant to the school.

Gene came from west Texas, and he was proud of it. He was a storyteller, a horse rider, and a friend of the earth. He loved the wide open spaces of the West and retreated there with his family for a few weeks almost every summer. He was an early riser—his car was invariably one of the first in the parking lot—and his energy seemed to have few limits. He was a marksman and hunter who made his own bullets and a fisherman who knew the intricacies of fly fishing. He and a few like-minded colleagues from around the country formed the Old Testament Fishing Society, which gathered every year for serious angling. Gene formed close friendships and had friends all over the country.

Teaching was for him a vocation, a calling, and he threw himself into it with both zest and great care. Gene was in his office every weekday and liked open doors. He was a United Methodist minister, a member of the Northwest Texas Conference, and he liked the thought that most of his Candler students were preparing themselves to work as ministers. He enjoyed seminary students, and he worked hard on his lectures to them. He had a reputation as a lucid and organized lecturer with an unrehearsed air and an irrepressible sense of humor. Gene uncovered for generations of students the humor as well as the wisdom to be found in the Old Testament text. He loved especially the call for social justice by the ancient prophets and he knew how to make this real to students. In the 1970s and 1980s, Gene co-taught a year-long introduction to the Bible with his colleagues Lee Keck and, later, Fred Craddock; many Candler graduates from that period remembered it as a transformative experience.

In addition to his classroom work, Gene taught with insight and savvy in the Supervised Ministry program, which brought a supervisor and a faculty member together to discuss with students reports that they brought from sites that served the sick, the poor, the abused, and the imprisoned as well as local congregations. He enjoyed the program and became an adept participant in the small groups.

In the larger university and the Division of Religion of the Graduate School he taught a yearly seminar on Old Testament writers, and he often chaired his department. He led Ph.D. students in a close and demanding study of the Hebrew text and its environments, conveyed high standards and expectations, and made himself available for conversations outside the classroom. Carol Newsom recalled that “in his work in the GDR Gene mentored a number of women and persons of color who became important scholars and leaders in theological education.” He seemed almost always to be directing a Ph.D. dissertation, and he became close friends with his students. He followed their careers throughout his life and spoke of them often after his retirement.  

His joy in teaching extended to both his local congregation, Briarcliff United Methodist Church, and to international audiences. He helped organize an adult education class at Briarcliff and then taught in it for almost twenty-five years. The class established a scholarship fund at Candler as a way of honoring him. Soon after he and his wife, Charky, moved to Denver, he helped form another such class. One of its members recently remarked that “Gene was so smart and savvy. We were able to attract solid scholars to our Sunday morning seminar in large part due to his presence.” But he also lectured at colleges, seminaries, and universities throughout the U.S., and after his retirement taught for a semester at Murdoch University, Perth, Australia. Gene liked to teach.

Two things must be said about Gene and scholarship in theological education. The first is simply that he was an accomplished scholar who was the author or co-author of four books and a 280-page essay on first Isaiah in The New Interpreter’s Bible (2001). He was a lucid and learned interpreter of the prophets and a master of the method of biblical criticism known as form criticism, the discovery and analysis of the literary genres of the Hebrew text and their function in the religion and culture of ancient Israel. His Form Criticism of the Old Testament (1971) was widely used for decades as a text in colleges and seminaries. His collaboration with his colleague J. Maxwell Miller on The Book of Joshua in The Cambridge Bible Commentary (1974) reflected his conviction that Old Testament study was decidedly a historical discipline. And finally, his contributions to Preaching the New Common Lectionary (1984-87) and Preaching Through the Christian Year (1992) displayed his belief that biblical scholarship should be pursued as a theological endeavor that illumined the text for ministers and lay persons in the church. He also wrote and published more than sixty articles in journals, reference works, and collections of essays, and he wrote more than seventy book reviews for professional journals.

The second thing that needs to be recognized is that Gene devoted immense scholarly energy to the selfless cultivation of scholarship by others. This was what made his scholarly contribution truly distinctive. From 1985 to 1990 he chaired the Research and Publications Committee of the Society of Biblical Literature. He helped found Scholars Press, served on its Board of Trustees five years, and edited many of the books it issued. He became a member in 1981 of the New Revised Standard Version Bible Committee and worked collegially with other members to produce a translation that was as clear and accurate as possible. He co-edited several compilations of essays, which included such titles as Humanizing America’s Iconic Book (1982), The Hebrew Bible and its Modern Interpreters (1985), and Canon, Theology, and Old Testament Interpretation (1988). And he was a series editor or co-editor of such important series as Guides to Biblical Scholarship, Old Testament Series (1971–2002) and The Forms of the Old Testament Literature (1981–2006). He himself edited more than thirty book manuscripts within those and other series. And he devoted enormous care to the books he edited. He had a real sense for language, and he could be a demanding copy editor as well as an incisive critic. The volumes illustrated Gene’s knack “for communicating complex biblical scholarship in a usable, responsible form to a wide variety of readers” (Carl Holladay). He had a hand, one way or another, in what must have been hundreds of books and articles by other scholars.

It was symbolic of his life that when he was seventy-six he donated his entire library to the Protestant Theological Seminary in Puerto Rico. It was a way of continuing to teach and to sustain teachers and scholars who would carry on with the task of seeking to understand better the Christian faith and interpret it intelligently to new generations.

Gene wanted scholarship to make a difference. When he was elected to the presidency of the SBL in 1996, his presidential address explored the topic “Rain on a Land Where No One Lives: The Hebrew Bible on the Environment.” He spoke in local churches on the same topic, and he supported activities and organizations devoted to preserving the natural world. He looked upon the sublime wonders of the western mountain country with a sense of awe. He felt a genuine responsibility to help preserve the land and a dislike of the economic forces that threatened to destroy it. In 1983, he became a member of the board of directors at the Ring Lake Ranch Retreat Center near DuBois, Wyoming, where he and his family went most summers. He often invited scholars from Candler and elsewhere to spend two weeks with clergy, laity, and the wranglers who looked after the horses. In 1997, he became its president and it served as a means for him to help others see the land close up.

A sense of vocation and responsibility marked Gene’s leadership at Candler. Deans and faculty members trusted his judgment, and he was a man of utmost integrity, so he had far more than his share of important committee assignments. In faculty discussions he had the rare capacity to see the heart of an issue, summarize it, and communicate it to his peers. In 1977, therefore, he became the associate (academic) dean of the school for a five-year term. He later told a colleague that such administrative work could be fulfilling if one saw it as an extension of one’s sense of vocation as a teacher, and he excelled at the job. For one thing, he had an almost unerring eye for academic talent. He saw through pretense and recognized ability, and therefore he was a reliable confidant of Candler deans and committees in hiring decisions. He spoke one time of the importance of the work of leaders as consensus builders: consensus, he said, doesn’t simply happen; it has to be fostered and shaped, long before the crucial debates erupt.

In Gene’s case, the academic deanship provided yet another means of helping other scholars in their work. He made a real difference by mentoring younger Candler scholars. He advised them on professional matters, introduced them to leaders in their fields, connected them to publishers, and read their manuscripts with a keen eye and discerning editorial pen. Carol Newsom has said that “he was instrumental in fostering the work of women scholars and ministers . . . . In unobtrusive ways he was a strong mentor to me, guiding me to opportunities I likely would not have seen for myself.” He was one of the most important faculty members at Candler for twenty-five years, and he did as much as any member of the faculty to shape the tradition that guides it now.

Gene would want me to add one more reflection to this account. Scholars often bear a deep debt to their spouses, and Gene recognized fully how much his long romance with Charlyne (Charky) Williams, and the joys that came to his life through his daughters Teresa and Rebecca, enabled him to be who he wanted to be. Both daughters shared his respect for nature. Terri became an ecologist with The Nature Conservancy, and Becky works in basic medical research at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. After Gene’s retirement he and Charky traveled often to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, and similar destinations with natural wonders. Anyone who knew them well recognized how much he respected and depended on her.

It remains only to fill in the spaces of the chronicle. Gene Milton Tucker was born in Albany, Texas, and moved ten years later to the flat and dry landscape near Andrews. He studied at McMurry College in Abilene, and he was the first member of his family to earn a college degree. (McMurry University honored him in 2008 as a Distinguished Alumnus.) It was at McMurry that he met Charky; they married in 1957 and then took off for New Haven, Connecticut, where he entered Yale Divinity School (B.D., 1960) and then Yale Graduate School (M.A., 1961, Ph.D., 1963). His first teaching position came in 1963 in the Graduate School of Religion at the University of Southern California. In 1966, he accepted a position at Duke Divinity School, where he combined teaching and scholarship with efforts to advance civil rights. He served as the president of the Council on Human Relations in Durham. He and Charky were specimens of that rare breed of liberal Texas Democrats who hold on against all odds. In 1970, he accepted his position at Candler, and he and Charky came into our lives. They made us into better people and Candler into a better school.

Read Tucker's obituary here.