New gift endows Candler School of Theology deanship

July 5, 2017

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A gift from the estate of Mary Lee Hardin Willard has created a permanent endowment to support the dean of Emory's Candler School of Theology. Jan Love will be installed as the inaugural Mary Lee Hardin Willard Dean in August. Emory Photo/Video

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Laurel Hanna
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Elaine Justice
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A gift from the estate of Mary Lee Hardin Willard of Gadsden, Alabama, has created a permanently funded endowment to support the position of the dean of Emory's Candler School of Theology.

Emory’s Board of Trustees acknowledged the gift during its June meeting and approved naming the deanship at Candler after its honoree. Jan Love will be installed as the inaugural Mary Lee Hardin Willard Dean of Candler School of Theology during the school’s fall convocation on Aug. 24.

“It is a unique and humbling privilege to be Candler’s first Mary Lee Hardin Willard Dean,” says Love, who has served as the school’s dean since 2007. “The naming of the deanship is a remarkable milestone for Candler, one that affirms the importance of our mission of educating faithful and creative leaders for the church’s ministries throughout the world and acknowledges our good work toward fulfilling that mission. I am grateful to Mary Lee for placing her trust in Candler in this way.”

The gift is not the first Candler has received from the Hardin family. Mary G. Hardin and her daughters, Elisabeth Hardin and Mary Lee Hardin Willard, longtime members of Candler’s Committee of 100, established the Hardin Scholarship at Candler School of Theology in the 1970s to support students preparing to serve as elders in the North Alabama Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Elisabeth Hardin says her mother had a vision to educate ministers from northeast Alabama, a vision that moved toward fruition when O.B. Sainsbury introduced the Hardin family to the Rev. Jack Gilbert and Candler School of Theology. Gilbert was the school’s development director at the time.

“We were smitten,” Hardin says. “Our family’s connection with Candler was a match made in heaven.”

To date, 83 students from the North Alabama Annual Conference have received support from the Hardin Scholarship.

“We are so proud of the students we have supported through the Hardin Scholarship over the years — wonderful people who are now in ministry in the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church. We are especially proud of the Rev. Dr. Dedric Cowser, one of our Hardin Scholars who earned his master of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees at Candler,” Hardin says.

And now, the deanship named for Mary Lee. “Thine be glory to her name,” Hardin adds.

Bill Willard, Mary Lee’s husband, says he’s certain that his wife would be delighted to see her legacy memorialized in this way, and further explains the motivation behind the gift.   

“Following her conversion to Methodism in her early 20s, Mary Lee’s dedication to her faith grew significantly through her family’s long-term relationship with Emory University and its Candler School of Theology,” he says. “During her last years, she often spoke of her admiration for the leadership Dean Jan Love was providing, the young ministers she was seeing Candler graduate, and the direction in which the school was moving.”

Mathew Pinson, Candler’s associate dean of development and alumni relations, applauds the gift as “particularly visionary.”

“The naming of a deanship recognizes the importance of providing strategic funding, directed by the dean, which can be deployed in support of the school’s strategic priorities,” he says. “Such an endowment will enhance the leadership of Candler’s deans for generations to come.”