Emeritus Professor Paul Walaskay dies
RICHMOND, VA (April 9, 2021) – Dr. Paul W. Walaskay, Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies and former dean of faculty at Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education (PSCE) — now Union Presbyterian Seminary — from 1983-2009, died yesterday. For 12 of those years, 1983-1995, he served as dean of faculty at PSCE. Seminary President Brian K. Blount made the following statement on his passing:
(Updated April 12 with words from Heath Rada and Jim Brashler)
When I first met Paul Walaskay I thought, here is one of those people who is, in the best way imaginable, larger than life. A Renaissance person, people used to say of persons like Paul. Someone whose breadth of skills and generosity of personality make him delightfully unique. Scholarly, athletic, musically inclined, administratively efficient, he was an engaging presence in the communities of Presbyterian School of Christian Education and Union Theological Seminary. His love for the school was visibly apparent. I remember with gratitude and fondness a conversation I had with him in the foyer of Watts Hall just after he had announced his retirement. He spoke often and positively about his experiences in and his feelings about “my school.”
A biblical scholar, Paul was also a gifted teacher. He combined his academic gifts and skills with his passion for music. A jazz pianist of considerable skill, he loved performing with the Royal Virginians Big Band. In his teaching, he combined his passion for jazz improv and his literary biblical analysis into a musical rendering of the Book of Acts. Athletically inclined, he especially enjoyed cycling but also found skating and contra dancing diverting pastimes.
Back on campus, when called upon, he agreed to serve as dean of the faculty at PSCE for more than a decade. Even after his service as a dean, his administrative acumen served the seminary well. Paul served in various capacities through the years as writer and editor of accreditation processes, ultimately chairing the Self-Study process for the ATS-SACS joint 10-year reaffirmation of accreditation in 2002. As both administrator and member of the faculty, he is remembered as a generous, kind-hearted colleague with an infectious laugh. Admired as someone who had a full and joyful life that included much more than his job, he was envied for his work-play balance and his ever-positive spirit.
Longtime colleague and friend, professor and dean Jim Brashler writes: “Paul was a fine colleague who cared deeply about students. He valued the experience they brought to the classroom and had a knack for leading discussions that included everyone. Paul was an early advocate for racial justice and equality for women.”
Heath Rada was president of PSCE when Paul was called to his ministry of teaching there. According to Dr. Rada: “Paul Walaskay was a gem of a human being. His scholarship and knowledge of the Bible, combined with his skills in teaching, enabled him to open the doors of understanding the Holy Scripture to many people. He could recall specific Bible passages immediately when we were seeking God’s word to help us deal with an issue. He loved teaching, he loved the students and he valued community. His winning personality and warm smile added to his charm, and his talent as a jazz pianist provided us many hours of delightful entertainment. Whereas he could have as much fun as anyone, Paul’s calm demeanor and level head provided a welcome spirit for our faculty and staff.
“One of my favorite memories was when Paul had his initial interview with me for the PSCE position, and his first question was “What part of your family came from Czechoslovakia?” Surprised by this query, I asked how he knew my heritage was Czech? He said, “I figured with all the A’s in your name, just as in mine, we probably had a similar lineage.”
“Paul was a diligent and hard worker. Many times we would see one another’s lights on in our offices at night, and check in with one another about our activities. Usually, those conversations would end with laughter. And when we learned one day after many months, that the reason we both were not scheduling lunch meetings during the week was because we were sneaking home at noon so we would not miss the latest episode of “The Young and the Restless,” our best-kept secret was revealed. We could not have asked for a finer person to come to PSCE, integrate into a faculty and culture that was new to him, and serve as our academic dean for many years. His spirit is one that will continue to live on in many of us for the rest of our lives. I value the privilege of working with and having Paul Walaskay as a friend.”
Paul received his Bachelor of Arts at Wayne State University in 1962. Upon graduation, he entered Colgate Rochester Divinity School, where he received a Bachelor of Divinity (1965). He received his Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Duke University in 1973.
Ordained in the American Baptist Church and the United Church of Christ, Paul served in several church capacities prior to his entry into the Duke graduate program. He served the First Baptist Church of Penn Yan, NY, as an assistant pastor, and then served as pastor of Friends Church in Farmington, NY, before becoming Minister of Education at the First United Church of Christ in Burlington, NC. During these years of serving the church, Paul also served as an engineer. He was a materials engineer for Ford Motor Company and later a senior materials engineer for the Xerox Corporation.
While at First Church in Burlington, NC, and attending graduate school at Duke, Paul also found time to serve as an instructor in religious studies and as Campus Minister for the United Church of Christ.
Before receiving his Ph.D. in 1973, Paul moved to the University of Rochester where he served from 1971-1983 in various capacities: Director of Religious Affairs; Associate Dean of Students; Acting Dean of Students; and Associate Professor of Religious Studies.
In 1983, Paul was called to Presbyterian School of Christian Education. He continued as Professor of Biblical Studies in the federated Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education from 1995 until his retirement in 2009.
Among various articles, Paul published several books. Acts, A commentary in the Westminster Bible Companion Series. From Jerusalem to Rome: A Study of the Life of Paul the Apostle, a curriculum study guide for the PCUSA. “And so we came to Rome”: The Political Perspective of St. Luke, Cambridge University Press. Christianity for Pious Skeptics, with James B. Ashbrook, Abingdon Press. It’s The Spirit, a musical drama based on Acts 1-5, with Mary Collins, TM Press.
He was a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education; was an associate editor for the journal Religious Education; and served as a member of the board of trustees of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.
Paul had a wonderful family who celebrate his life even as they mourn his loss. He was married for 27 years to Jinx Lucas. Also cherishing his memory are his daughter, Rachel Walaskay, granddaughters, Kylie and Sara, and his sister, Marianna Erdmann.
Paul will be remembered with great fondness and love throughout the Union Presbyterian Seminary community. His legacy is one of scholarly attainment, joyously lived. What many of us wish might be said of us, is appropriately said of Paul Walaskay. He worked as hard and as joyously as he played and he played as hard and as joyously as he worked.