Since his death last Friday, e’ve heard from many of GW’s former students, including several comments on our initial announcement of his passing. If you’d like to share your favorite memories of GW, send them to Prof. Diana Magnuson. As a sample of how our friend affected one student, we’re happy to publish this recollection by Dr. Janel Curry ’77, provost of Gordon College.
Today I am mourning the loss of a mentor: my undergraduate advisor and professor at Bethel College, G. William Carlson. I arrived as a 19-year-old junior political science transfer student, seeking a deeper understanding of myself and what it meant to be a Christian in the world. He introduced me to my Christian intellectual tradition—everything from Ellul to Stringfellow to Erasmus and Yoder. He was always a bit suspicious of Calvinists… I also read Goldwater and Hatfield—across the political spectrum. But in addition, I became part of his family, spending Sundays with them at church and their house. I taught Sunday school with them. He also provided a safe place for me when it came to my struggles with being a woman within the evangelical church, being supportive of women in all roles. He and his wife modelled this for me. They were my home away from home. He modelled civic engagement through serving on the St. Paul school board.
I also took peace and conflict studies and history—all areas where he taught. And he was the hardest professor I ever had. The reading in his courses would encompass hundreds of pages of material. In his Soviet politics course we got great pleasure walking around with a huge 800-page book titled An Anatomy of a Communist Takeover. I could never get higher than a B+.
When I graduated and went off to volunteer service in Louisiana, he would send me books in the mail. I stayed with he and his family when I flew back for my aunt’s funeral.
When I moved back to Minnesota I worked for a season at the Minnesota Department of Revenue, answering tax questions on the phone. In between calls I would read books provided by his library, which I visited each Sunday. I read hundreds of books during that tax season: E. Stanley Jones, C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Clarence Jordan, Luther, Martin Luther King, Tolstoy, and Menno Simons. I read church history and books about South Africa and apartheid, the Chicago 10… I read theology on church-state relations. At one point, one of my co-workers asked for my reading list. I read far and wide. I was helping him move his library from his old house to his new house just across the street when we heard on the radio that John Paul had been chosen as the new pope.
When I started graduate school we had an informal competition on which of us would finish our Ph.D. first—I won. His wife Cathy was not surprised.
We stayed in contact over the years, and he and Cathy would meet me for dinner when I was in the Twin Cities. He was concerned when I moved to Calvin College: The historians there drank beer with their pizza… and they were Calvinists…
His wife once told me that I was one of his best students. When I said I would have not known that because I could only get a B+, she told me that he got the same grades in college.
I saw G. William just last April when I was doing interviews at Bethel on women and leadership. He was pleased at the leadership roles that women had moved into. He was still involved in local politics. He was still reading voraciously. He was retired but still teaching—this time for a colleague who was ill. And I think he was pleased that I was now at Gordon because they weren’t Calvinists…
William is probably now chatting with Clarence Jordan, and Menno Simons. And he may be surprised to find John Calvin…
Rest well, good and faithful servant.