In Memoriam

Harold Odes Forshey
Professor Emeritus of Comparative Religion

Harold Forshey began life in Cambridge, Ohio, in 1934, but lived it on a much broader canvas. Harold’s father was a minister in the Churches of Christ tradition, who for a time had to hold a series of day-jobs in order to support his family while preaching. Before settling again eventually in Ohio, the Forshey family lived at various times in Arizona and Idaho. Harold spent his teens in the latter state, playing in the Nampa High School band and winning the Idaho debate championship his senior year. He then set off for Texas and Abilene Christian College, a school in the family’s religious tradition. Harold began his college career as an aspiring chemist, but his interests began to shift towards religion, and he remained in Abilene to take a master’s degree.

Although Abilene Christian was known for its conservatism, it nevertheless sent a steady stream of its best students to Harvard Divinity School. Preceding Harold in the trek to Cambridge was his friend Roy Bowen Ward, who would later become his career-long colleague at Miami as well. Although Harold explored the ministerial vocation while at Harvard, serving a term as student pastor in Boston’s inner-city Roxbury neighborhood, he realized that his true calling was to the academy. Harold attended Harvard during a golden age of scholarship in the Hebrew Bible and the religions of the Ancient Near East, studying with “Baltimore School” scholars Frank Moore Cross, Jr. and, especially, George Ernest Wright.

While pursuing his Doctor of Theology degree at Harvard, Harold held a part-time job at that University’s Houghton Library, where he was introduced to the world of rare books and manuscripts and, even more fortuitously, to Carol Goodman, a recent Radcliffe graduate studying for a library degree at Simmons College. Harold and Carol were married shortly before their move to Oxford in 1966, where Harold had been called to begin what would be a career-long stay in what was then Miami’s Department of Religion. Harold and Carol lived in a variety of locales in Oxford before settling for the long run into their handsome brown Craftsman-style house at the corner of Bishop and Withrow, where they lived until Harold’s retirement in 2003. It was here that their daughters, Suzanne and Beth, came of age prior to enrolling at Emory University and going on to careers and families respectively in Statesboro, Georgia, and Los Angeles.

Although Harold’s training had been primarily in Semitic philology—he was able to read some fifteen ancient and modern languages—intellectual restlessness and the love of the outdoors led his career in a somewhat different direction. During the mid-1970s Harold began to volunteer on archaeological digs in Israel, and before long acquired the status of a professional archaeologist. Many of his publications took the form of proceedings of his team’s excavations in Israel and Jordan. He was elected to the board of the American Center for Oriental Research in Amman, Jordan, and in 2002 received the Membership Service Award of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

Harold also interspersed his teaching and scholarship with stints of administrative work. He served two terms as chair of the Department of Religion, a perpetually challenging task. Between his efforts to keep the department functioning smoothly, he also served for several years in the 1990s as Associate Dean of Arts and Science, sharing a suite of Upham Hall offices with Karl Mattox and Kay Phillips. Harold rapidly gained a reputation as a highly effective administrator through his low-key manner, level-headedness, a sense of fairness, and the same remarkable capacity for hard work and attention to detail that characterized his teaching and scholarship.

As retirement approached, Harold grew increasingly frustrated with the transformations he saw overtaking Oxford. His vision of a collegiate community in which faculty and their families lived close to campus and entertained students grew increasingly problematic as the Mile Square’s single-family homes were converted into poorly-maintained student housing, and the resultant imbalance in the local population was leading to a rapid deterioration in the quality of town life. Harold thus decided to return to his Western roots. He and Carol began a new life in Tucson, Arizona, one rich with the foreign travel they had begun years before during a stint at Miami’s Luxembourg center and in birdwatching and other enjoyments of the desert landscape. Even before their departure from Oxford, Harold had surprised Carol by surreptitiously enrolling in a class in ballroom-dancing, so that they were able thereafter to continue together what had always been one of Carol’s enthusiasms.

Unfortunately, Harold’s leisurely enjoyment of the delights of Arizona was soon eclipsed by the appearance and then the recurrence of cancer, which finally ended his life on May twentieth, 2010. He is remembered at Miami as a capable administrator, congenial colleague, and loyal friend, and by the national and international archaeological community as an indefatigable excavator and scholar. Harold would probably be most pleased, however, with the tribute rendered by one of his early students at Miami upon news of his death. “We lost a truly gifted teacher,” she wrote. “He is the kind of professor you wish every student in college has a chance to have. For me, he was magic.”

Hail, Harold—and farewell.

Respectfully submitted by: Reed Anderson, Newell S. Booth, Jr., Judith de Luce, Curtis W. Ellison, James Constantine Hanges, Alan L. Miller, Kay Phillips , Peter W. Williams, Liz Wilson