Obituaries

Credit: Ken Bennett/Wake Forest University

Walter J. Harrelson

Old Testament Scholar

Walter J. Harrelson, distinguished professor of Hebrew Bible, emeritus, and former dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School, of Winston-Salem, N.C., died Sept. 5, 2012. He was 92. An internationally acclaimed Old Testament scholar, he served four years in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Harrelson was dean of Chicago Divinity School when he became a professor of Old Testament at Vanderbilt in 1960. He was named dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School in 1967, serving until 1975.

Harrelson’s broad areas of expertise included Jewish–Christian relations, biblical interpretation, the study of biblical law and prophets, and churches’ response to social issues. During the early 1970s he initiated an extensive project to preserve the treasures of the Church of Ethiopia through vast microfilming of manuscripts in churches and monasteries. The Walter Harrelson Papers at Vanderbilt University Special Collections include this work, as well as many other papers from his classes and career at Vanderbilt.

Harrelson’s numerous leadership posts included presidency of the Society of Biblical Literature and chairmanship of the Society for Religion in Higher Education. He was a major leader of theological education in the United States and Canada, serving in roles that included chair of the Task Force on Academic Freedom of the American Society of Theological Schools. He also was among a select group of scholars of the Hebrew Bible to produce the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible in 1990.

Vanderbilt awarded him three university-wide recognitions: Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor, Thomas Jefferson Award, and Alexander Heard Distinguished Service Professor. Upon his retirement in 1990, a scholarship was established at Vanderbilt in his name.

In the mid-1990s Harrelson was asked by Wake Forest University to guide development of its proposed divinity school. He became a professor of religion at Wake Forest until his second retirement. He is survived by a daughter, Marianne H. McIver, BSN’67; two sons, David A. Harrelson, JD’78, and Robert J. Harrelson, BA’80; six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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Credit: Susana Raab

Jane Holmes Dixon, BA’59, MAT’62

Active Faith

Jane Holmes Dixon of Washington, D.C., died Dec. 25, 2012. She became a priest in her 40s and later became the second female bishop in the Episcopal Church. Her 17-month term as bishop pro tem of the Washington Diocese in 2001 and 2002 was dominated by a standoff with a rural Maryland parish in Prince George’s County whose rector refused to recognize female authority.

Throughout her clerical career she was seen as an unassuming Southerner whose early familiarity with racial discrimination in her native Mississippi fueled deep faith-based activism. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, she spoke at a national prayer service held at the National Cathedral, standing beside President George W. Bush and urging Americans to “be united so that we will make that message of love the message that the world needs to hear.” In recent years she was invited to speak at the White House against hate crimes and served as president of the D.C.-based Interfaith Alliance, most recently focusing her attention on the region’s homeless population.

“My ministry has been a striving for justice,” she said. “‘Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God.’ We tend to do a lot of loving justice and doing mercy, and that’s not what the Scripture says.” She is survived by her husband, David M. Dixon, BA’54, JD’59; three children, including Mary Dixon Raibman, JD’98; and six grandchildren.

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Credit: VANDERBILT BOARD OF TRUST OFFICE

William W. Featheringill, BE’64

Engineering Entrepreneur

William W. Featheringill, member of Vanderbilt University’s Board of Trust, of Birmingham, Ala., died Dec. 9, 2012.

He served with the U.S. Navy Seabees in Okinawa, California and Vietnam. In 1973, Featheringill co-founded Private Capital Corp., which specialized in private investment in small companies. As its president he established and led a variety of companies, primarily in health care, biotechnology, information technology and management systems. At the time of his death, he was chairman of Electronic Healthcare Systems Inc. and Momentum Business Solutions Inc., and served as a director of Southern Research Institute. As an entrepreneur he received CIO magazine’s Enterprise Integration Award and the Birmingham Venture Club Investor of the Year Award; two of his companies were named most outstanding venture-backed companies by the Venture Club.

Featheringill was a vital and enthusiastic Vanderbilt supporter, serving on the Vanderbilt Engineering Alumni Council, National Committee of the Campaign for Vanderbilt, Shape the Future Campaign Steering Committee, Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital Phase I Building Campaign Committee, Alumni Association Board of Directors, School of Engineering Committee of Visitors, and the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Board. He had served on the Board of Trust since 1998 and was a member of its Executive Committee from 2001 to 2007.

In the late 1990s he served as chair of building efforts for the School of Engineering and was instrumental in the construction of Featheringill Hall. In 2000 he was inducted into the School of Engineering’s Academy of Distinguished Alumni. He is survived by his wife, daughter, son-in-law, three grandchildren, a brother, sister-in-law, nieces and a nephew.