Dr. Walter Joseph HARRELSON

Obituary
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HARRELSON, Dr. Walter Joseph Passed away September 5, 2012 in Winston Salem, NC. Dr. Harrelson was the last surviving child of I. D. and Mabel Rich Harrelson of Brunswick County, North Carolina. He had a happy childhood on the family farm, completed high school there, and spent his later teen years with his brother Claude and family in the Washington, D.C. area, where he worked for a time as a junior clerk in the U.S. Department of Justice. From early childhood he was active in church life, reveling in gospel music and biblical narratives and poetry. In 1940, at age twenty, he enrolled at Mars Hill College, North Carolina, to prepare for some form of Christian ministry. There he met Idella Aydlett, who became his wife and companion for over seventy years. Idella looked forward to life in ministry, only to discover that their entire life together would be spent in universities and divinity schools. These included Andover Newton Theological School in the Boston area, the University of Chicago, Vanderbilt University, and Wake Forest University. Dr. Harrelson's special field of study and teaching was the Bible and its related subjects. Touched at an early age by the mystery and power of its stories and teaching, he sought to pass along those elements to his students and to public groups. In preparation to do so, he continued his college work, after Mars Hill College and a stint in the Navy during World War II, at the University of North Carolina, Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and the University of Basel, Switzerland, with additional language study at Harvard University. Active participation in scholarly societies in the U.S. and abroad gave him opportunity for further learning and leadership. The Harrelson family consists of Marianne McIver, her two children Heather and Heidi, Heather's life partner Suzanne Lowe and their two children, Annika and Celie; David Aydlett Harrelson and his wife Carolyn and their two children, Ansel and Clea; Robert Joseph Harrelson and his wife Kate Newman, and their two children Jessie and Tom. The family has enjoyed summer stays at North Carolina beaches and has had opportunity for considerable family travel, including a year in Basel, two years in Rome, and one and a half years in Jerusalem. During over thirty years at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Walter was active in the struggles for racial equality and for interfaith understanding, especially between Jews and Christians. Some of his writings, especially those written jointly with his longtime Nashville friend, Rabbi Randall M. Falk, were devoted to this end. Other writings had the primary aim of presenting the biblical texts helpfully for contemporary study, reflection, and meditation. Long years of work on Bible translation, including work on the New Revised Standard Version, had the same objective. After retiring from Vanderbilt, Walter helped with the creation of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University. In 2004, Idella and Walter left their retirement home in Southport, N.C. for Salemtowne, a retirement community in Winston Salem, N.C. Their move enabled them to resume membership in the Wake Forest Baptist Chirch, a model Christian community where all are welcomed and all affirmed, where the Christian heritage is held up to critical scrutiny and is powerfully affirmed in music, dance, art, study, and from the pulpit. After five happy years there, Idella died on September 11, 2009. The children made the remaining years of Walter's life not only bearable but marked by seasons of love and joy. Memorial gifts would be welcomed at Wake Forest Baptist Church, P.O. Box 7326, Winston Salem, NC 27109.
Published in The Tennessean on Sept. 7, 2012
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