Prof. Gaylord Noyce Dies at 83
Gaylord Brewster Noyce ’52 M.Div., professor emeritus of the practice of practical theology at Yale Divinity School, died Aug. 10 at home in Hamden, CT at the age of 83, after a quarter-century struggle with Parkinson’s disease.
An industrious author who helped train generations of future church leaders during his 34 years at YDS, Noyce devoted his considerable energy as a writer and teacher to pastoral issues.
“His focus was always on the church and how the church could function more effectively in the current world,” recalled Horace Bushnell Professor Emeritus of Christian Nurture Harry Adams, whose tenure at YDS as professor and dean overlapped with Noyce’s. “His books are all focused on ministry and parish and church. That was the main focus of his intellectual life and his professional life.”
The son of a Congregational minister, Noyce grew up in Iowa, graduating as the valedictorian of Grinnell High School. Following completion of a wartime stint in the U.S. Navy and a mathematics degree from Miami University in Ohio, Noyce in 1949 moved to New Haven with his new wife, Dorothy, to enroll at YDS.
Noyce’s graduating class, the Class of 1952, went on to become a powerhouse of loyalty and generosity to YDS. In 2007, at its 55th reunion, the Class of 1952 honored Noyce with an evening buffet at a New Haven hotel. It included a fond tribute by Rev. Samuel Slie '52 M.Div., ’63 S.T.M. In his 20-minute talk, Slie described how Noyce appeared upon entering YDS in 1949: “Very good looking, not much weight, rather slight and yet he was to be an amazing person among us all.” Slie and Noyce’s careers overlapped repeatedly in the decades following graduation. Through it all, Slie recalled recently, “He was just a wonderful person, always. He was deeply committed. He was good with colleagues.”
After graduating from YDS, Noyce served Congregational churches in Lexington, MA and Raleigh, NC but, by 1960, had answered a call by then dean Liston Pope to return to YDS as an assistant professor of pastoral theology and to run the field education program that gave students practical experience. Judging by a host of administrative appointments at YDS that came in the following years, Noyce fit in well as he assisted with Berkeley Divinity School’s merger with YDS and became YDS’s first dean of students. Another indication of Noyce’s quick acceptance to the YDS community came in the spring of 1961, when the YDS faculty raised $1,000 to bail Noyce out of an Alabama jail, where he had landed as part of a Freedom Ride drawing attention to racial segregation in the American South.
As a teacher and mentor, Noyce drew on these experiences to impart the grit and flavor of pastoral work to students who were not necessarily sufficiently seasoned to fully grasp it. Kristen Leslie ’86 M.Div. was one of those students. “Trying to understand the realities of ministry could be very difficult for someone who didn’t have much life experience,” said Leslie, who was 25 when she graduated and is now an associate professor of pastoral care and counseling at YDS. “His teaching came out of a place of experience. He understood the ambiguities of working in ministry. He understood that with the richness of ministry always come complications.”
The titles of Noyce’s 11 books reflect this commitment to exploring pastoral issues and nuances: “The Church is Not Expendable” (Westminster, 1970), “Survival and Mission for the City Church” (Westminster, 1975), and “The Minister as Moral Counselor” (Abingdon, 1989).
Off campus, Noyce steeped himself in ministry opportunities, ranging from a seven-month term as interim minister at Hamden’s Spring Glen Church to serving as a leader of the EXIT coffeehouse outreach effort on the New Haven Green and traveling as a delegate to United Church of Christ synods across the country. With his family, Noyce was a member of the Spring Glen Church for several decades.
“There’s no question that he was really, truly one of the most gracious, humble church members that any pastor could hope to have,” said Spring Glen’s senior pastor, Andrew Nagy-Benson ’98 M.Div. “He was someone whose credentials and wisdom could let him tell you how it is, but he was always someone who asked, ‘How is it?’”
After retiring in 1994 from YDS, Noyce remained connected to the school, in part through a scholarship bearing his name. Established in 1996, it benefited entering YDS students. Upon learning of Noyce’s death, one such student, Stephen Ogden ’09 M.A.R., wrote in a recent e-mail that the scholarship aid was “absolutely essential” to being able to attend YDS. Now a doctoral student at Yale, Ogden credited the YDS M.A.R. program with allowing him “to pursue both my passions, philosophy and theology, in a way that I do not think any other master's program in the country could.”
Noyce’s last visit to the Sterling Divinity Quadrangle came just weeks ago when, on a Sunday afternoon, YDS Dean Harold Attridge took Noyce, wife Dorothy Noyce and two other family members on a quickly arranged tour of the empty Quad. “Gay's last visit to YDS was a bittersweet occasion,” recalled Attridge, the Reverend Henry L. Slack Dean and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament. “Gay himself was delighted to be back at YDS, and proud to show it off to his granddaughter and her husband. It was clear that this might be his last occasion to visit, but that did not dampen his enthusiasm.”
Noyce is survived by his wife of 60 years, Dorothy, along with two daughters, Betsy and Karen, and a son, Timothy. A memorial service, open to the public, has been scheduled for Sept. 12 at 3 p.m. at the Spring Glen Church, 1825 Whitney Avenue, Hamden, CT. The family is asking that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Gaylord B. Noyce Scholarship at the Yale Divinity School, or to the Spring Glen Church.