By Anna Meurer
One of Dr. Joe Lunceford’s favorite things to say to first-time students is, “I have one lecture. It starts on the first day of class and ends on the last.” With the announcement of his upcoming retirement at the end of this semester it appears that Dr. Lunceford is finally closing the book on his lecture.
In the last two weeks of his career, the college is reflecting on his full and influential life. He’s been a pastor, chaplain of the Air Force, scholar and professor. Earning a B.A. from Mississippi College, a B.D. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and his PhD in New Testament from Baylor University, he came to Georgetown in 1981, and after 33 years, his tenure almost puts him as the longest-standing faculty member.
On campus, he is immediately recognizable by his collection of fedoras and his Mississippi accent. The longtime teacher of the New Testament and Greek classes, he’s known for his limitless knowledge, even down to minute differences in the Synoptic Gospels. Despite his full classes every semester, he’s found time throughout the years to pursue his own research, publishing two books, “Biblical Women—Submissive?” (2005) and “Parody and Counterimaging in the Apocalypse” (2009). Even once classes end, he’s never far from campus. An ardent supporter of the Georgetown sports tradition, one is as likely to see him at a basketball or football game as in his office, often in the company of his wife Stacey.
A sign of Lunceford’s impact on the college community is the respect he commands from his colleagues. Reflecting on Lunceford, Religion department chair Dr. Sheila Klopfer said, “After 33 years teaching in the Religion Department at Georgetown College, I would say he has achieved legendary status. He is one of the kindest people I know, but he has a humorous side. Truly, he cares deeply about his students and about the campus community.”
Added Dr. Jeffrey Asher, “One thing that always struck me about Dr. Lunceford is his loyalty—to his students, to his colleagues, to his friends and even to people whom he didn’t even necessarily like. Through thick and thin, he was always by your side. You can’t ask for a better friend, colleague or professor than that. This virtue says more about him than he could ever say about himself (which he wouldn’t do since he’s a very modest man).” The late Doc Birdwhistell, another beloved mainstay of Georgetown’s campus, said, “Joe Lunceford has been a friend and colleague for more than thirty years. A brilliant scholar, a dedicated teacher, a constant friend to all and a passionate fan of everything Georgetown College.”
As a former Georgetown student himself, Terry Clark has had the privilege of interaction with Lunceford as both a professor and a colleague. As a professor, Clark said Lunceford “opened the door for me to critical thinking about my own religious tradition, and I’ve never looked back. This approach has truly been life-changing. Joe’s been changing lives like this for over three decades.” As a colleague, he said, “Joe is a true icon for religious studies here at Georgetown College. One of my greatest honors as a professor here the past six years has been having an office right next to one of my most important mentors.”
Clark called him the “epitome of what it should mean to be a Baptist” and praised him for his dedication to religious freedom and willingness to discuss.
Recollections from former students, alumni and church members, speak similarly of a deep and lasting respect for a man whose impact has stretched far and wide. Favorite memories involve him attending away football games, his witnessing in the Christian faith, admiration for his work and his “scholarship and success as a professor” (Michael R., Georgetown Religion Facebook group). Several described Lunceford and his wife, Stacey, as inspirations and blessings within their church and on campus. All noted his wry sense of humor and high moral values.
On Tuesday, April 15, Dr. Lunceford gave Georgetown’s “Last Chapel” address, during which he advised students to live in the moment and spoke on the often unexpected route of life. “A mark of maturity,” he said, “is to be able to enjoy the trip when God puts you on a detour.”
True to his nature of giving to Georgetown College, for his retirement dinner, he requested donations to the Ora Lunceford Memorial Endowed Scholarship, which is presented each year to students at the college’s Academic Honors Day. Even though his lectures may come to an end, his legacy will continue on forever.