The founder of UNC Charlotte’s Department of Religious Studies and award-winning professor, Loy Witherspoon, died on Sunday, Jan. 15, at age 86.
After the death of both of his parents, Witherspoon grew up in the Methodist Children’s Home in Winston-Salem. Later, he became an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church.
After earning his bachelor and divinity degrees from Duke University, Witherspoon received his doctorate from Boston University. He spent time teaching philosophy and religion at the American University in Cairo, Egypt.
Witherspoon was a close friend of Bonnie Cone, and she invited him to head the Department of Philosophy and Religion in 1964. Eight years later, in 1972, he played an important role in forming the Department of Religious Studies when it became independent from Philosophy.
His legacy is alive and is seen in many parts of UNC Charlotte. In 1984, the Department of Religious Studies established the “Witherspoon Lecture” series, which are considered to be the oldest and most prestigious at UNC Charlotte.
Even though Witherspoon retired in 1995, he continued to teach at UNC Charlotte for the next 10 years and was actively involved with the university’s affairs. UNC Charlotte professor, James Tabor, recalls his first meeting with Loy Witherspoon.
“It was Loy, back in the year 2000, when I first met archaeologist Dr. Shimon Gibson, now on our faculty, who immediately supported us with in establishing our amazing Biblical archaeology program at UNC Charlotte,” said Tabor.
“When I came to UNC Charlotte in 1989, it was Loy’s slot in New Testament that I was asked to fill, given his retirement,” remembered Tabor. “Talk about filling big shoes. We were very close and I loved him dearly.”
Witherspoon’s legacy includes the establishment of the Greek system at UNC Charlotte, as well as The Loy H. Witherspoon Greek Alumni Scholarship. But above all else, his greatest accomplishment is the relationships he built with his colleagues and students and the lasting impact he had on their lives.
“Loy was truly a legendary teacher and a mentor to his colleagues and scores of students, and he was one of the most active members of the campus community,” said Chancellor Philip L. Dubois.
“He was a much-loved colleague who always had time and a kind word for anyone. [My wife] Lisa and I will miss him very much,” said Dubois.