Statement from President Blount on passing of Lamar Williamson Jr.
RICHMOND, VA (July 13, 2020) — The following statement was made by Union Presbyterian Seminary President Brian K. Blount on the death of Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies Lamar Williamson Jr.
Dear Union Presbyterian Seminary Friends,
I have learned that on Saturday, July 11, 2020, Lamar Williamson, Jr., missionary, teacher, scholar, pastor, activist, and former professor of Presbyterian School of Christian Education (now Union Presbyterian Seminary) died in Black Mountain, North Carolina. I understand that three of his children were able to be with him when he died peacefully at 2:48 p.m. They were singing songs to him in English, French, and Tshiluba as he transitioned from this life into eternity.
I met Lamar on my very first trip to the Montreat Conference Center. In my early years as a professor of New Testament, I had been invited to preach at a text conference. I chose the Gospel of Mark as my primary text. Because I deeply valued (and still do!) Lamar’s commentary on the Gospel, I quoted from it several times during my first sermon in Anderson Auditorium. Following the service, I noticed my then faculty colleague, Pat Miller, coming forward to greet me, a friend of his in tow. Given the respect I clearly showed for the scholarship in the commentary, Pat wanted me to meet the commentary’s author. And so began my enduring friendship with Lamar, a friendship that blossomed throughout my ministry at Union Presbyterian Seminary. While Lamar had retired by the time I began my tenure as seminary president, I enjoyed many opportunities to visit with him, converse with him, and continue to learn from him. I am one of so very many who will miss his gentle presence, his wise counsel, and his enduring support.
In an autobiographical statement for the seminary, Lamar shares that he came by his love of the Bible honestly. His father, an attorney, was Clerk of the Session of First Presbyterian Church, Monticello, Arkansas, for forty years. He taught Sunday School even longer. Lamar claimed that though high school Saturday nights for him meant parties and dances, for his dad they meant studying the Bible passage for Sunday School. On Sunday nights, he often joined his parents at the preacher’s house next door to discuss the sermons of the day. He would, of course, move from watching others study the Bible to becoming an avid and excellent student of the Bible himself. From First Presbyterian, Monticello, he launched into the study and proclamation of the Gospel around the world.
Lamar initiated his theological journey at Davidson College. After earning his BA, he enrolled at Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity. Upon graduation from Union, he enrolled in the Faculte Libre de Theologie Protestante, Montpellier, France, where he earned the Bachelor of Theology. He would later earn the PhD in biblical theology at the Graduate School of Yale University.
In his seminary statement, Lamar argues that he never intended to be either a teacher or a missionary. But a letter from a peer whom he admired, a missionary in Zaire (Congo), asked him to come to Africa to teach French in a Theological School that had just been started. He notes that his wife, Ruthmary, “who had even less intention than I did of being a missionary, said she had signed up for the whole trip with me, so she’d go along.” With three young children at the time, they journeyed to the mission field in Africa and, in the process of his work there, helped to launch a United Theological School (Ecole Unie de Theologie, Ndesha, Zaire) which pooled the resources of three missions and churches and allowed him the ability to focus on
teaching Bible, with a particular focus on the New Testament. Following ten years in Africa, Lamar and Ruthmary arrived in Richmond in 1966. Lamar taught two years at Union Theological Seminary as a visiting professor, returned to Zaire (Congo) for one year as a visiting professor at the Faculte de Theologie Protestante du Zaire, and then returned to Richmond to begin an illustrious career at PSCE.
Lamar’s leadership in the life, history, and future of Union Presbyterian Seminary was evident in words he shared in 1997 with the seminary community. He wanted us to know why it was important that the legacies of both Presbyterian School of Christian Education and Union Theological Seminary remain viable and recognizable in the federation that would become Union Presbyterian Seminary. “The church needs pastors who are in fact teaching elders, and it continues to need unordained as well as ordained educators. UTS and PSCE need each other for the fulfillment of their missions, and to bring together the strengths and best qualities in both institutions…” Words shared in 1997 that are just as appropriate in 2020.
Given Lamar’s fidelity to both UTS and PSCE, and his love for the resulting UPSem, it is appropriate that my recognition of Lamar be seconded by the recognition of past presidents from the two institutions whose joining created Union Presbyterian Seminary.
From Louis Weeks, president of UTS and UTS-PSCE: “What a remarkable Christian! Lamar Williamson led congregations, denominations and theological schools in Congo (Zaire) and in the U.S. He helped found the Presbyterian University in Congo. He wrote prayers, Bible commentaries, and meditations. And he remained a modest, personable, diligent, faithful believer in Jesus Christ.
“His contributions to PSCE, Union-PSCE, now Union Presbyterian Seminary are most familiar to most of us. He for decades he taught New Testament and much more at PSCE. He helped lead the federation with Union. When I asked him subsequently to join the Board of Union-PSCE he first demurred, worried he was too “old and cantankerous” (his phrase). He did serve with wisdom and verve.
But Carolyn and I first knew Lamar when we lived in Kinanga, Congo-Zaire. Lamar taught at the nearby seminary. He served through the tumultuous years of independence and tribal strife. Most missionaries excelled in either French or Tshiluba. Lamar worked flawlessly in both. He and Ruthmary had kept essentially an open house for Congolese students (and for young colleagues). They continued that hospitality in Richmond. A good friend. Just a great soul.”
From Heath Rada, president of PSCE: “Lamar Williamson was a humble giant. He was bold, willing to stand for justice, able to hold his own with any biblical scholar, a master teacher, writer, and author, unimpressed by worldly possessions, a dedicated husband and father, valued colleague and inclusive of all of God’s children, and loved Jesus with his whole heart. He never backed down when he believed his position to be appropriate, yet he was quick to admit when he was wrong. Never expressing pride in his achievements he was the first to honor others or to seek forgiveness if he felt he may have wronged or hurt another. He embodied love like few people I have ever known. He was the perfect mentor.”
With prayers of thanksgiving, we celebrate the life and ministry of Lamar Williamson, Jr.
Top photo: Dr. Lamar Williamson Jr. with the entering class (“Premier graduet”) at Faculte de Tehologie
Universite Nationale du Zaire, Campus de Kisangani, November 1972. Photo courtesy of April Swofford.