Beloved University icon and pioneering professor Dr. Loy H. Witherspoon passed away Jan. 15.
University founder Bonnie Cone first recruited Witherspoon to UNC Charlotte in 1964 and he became an important confidant throughout the years. Witherspoon was the first chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion in 1964 and the Department of Religious Studies when it became independent in 1972. Witherspoon also served as college chaplain, was the first chairperson of the University Senate and twice served as faculty president.
“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, who knew Witherspoon since the early 1990s when Dubois was UNC Charlotte's provost. “He was a much-loved colleague who always had time and a kind word for anyone.”
In 1984, he was honored by hundreds of friends and colleagues with the Loy H. Witherspoon Lecture in Religious Studies, the University’s oldest and most prestigious endowed lecture series. The 33rd Witherspoon Lecture is Monday, Feb. 6 and will feature University of Chicago's David Nirenberg speaking on how Jewish, Christian and Muslim societies interact together.
And it doesn’t stop there. In 1990, Witherspoon Hall was named in his honor. In 1993 he received the Alumni Association's Distinguished Faculty Award and in 2001 he accepted the Distinguished Service Award given by the University Board of Trustees. (Dr. Witherspoon with University founder Bonnie Cone)
Witherspoon was also responsible for bringing the Greek system to campus. In 2012, the Loy H. Witherspoon Greek Alumni Scholarship was established to provide financial assistance to undergraduate members of UNC Charlotte fraternities or sororities.
Witherspoon retired in 1994 after 30 years of distinguished service to the University. Yet for more than a decade after retirement, he continued to teach at UNC Charlotte, and he remained active in a range of community and academic service projects.
“Loy Witherspoon embodied the values and aspirations of UNC Charlotte,” said Nancy Gutierrez, dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. “All of his efforts have gone to creating the University of the future. He always has had ambitions for UNC Charlotte, and so his work even in the early days was predicated on its becoming the great institution it is today.”
Witherspoon was an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, having earned his bachelor and divinity degrees from Duke University and his doctorate from Boston University.
(Dr. Witherspoon at the opening of Witherspoon Hall)
Witherspoon grew up in Winston-Salem in the Methodist Children's Home after both his parents died when he was a small child. Following his Duke education, Witherspoon went to teach philosophy and religion at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. There he met his lifelong friend and companion, William Pfischner, M.D.