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Campus remembers Donald Shockley, former Emory chaplain

Rev. Donald Shockley, who served as Emory University’s full-time chaplain from 1979 – 1990, died June 8. His legacy of expanding campus ministry to include groups across the university continues today.

Rev. Donald Shockley, who served as Emory University’s first full-time chaplain from 1979-1990, passed away on June 8, 2020, at the age of 82. 

Prior to Shockley’s arrival at Emory, the university had part-time directors of religious life who primarily worked with undergraduates. Shockley expanded that focus to include all areas of the university and community.

“Don really saw his ministry for the whole university, not just students,” says Gary Hauk, university historian emeritus, who retired in January after spending 34 years in various roles at Emory. “He thought effective campus ministry was not the work of a single individual; he wanted to nurture a wide variety of ministries by many people throughout the campus.”

Shockley focused on building relationships throughout the university and developing a vibrant ecumenical university worship program for Sunday morning services, Hauk notes. It wasn’t uncommon for the services to draw attendees from across campus and the Druid Hills neighborhood.

Sunday services and other programs expanded once Cannon Chapel was built and dedicated in 1981.

“Don was one of the most perceptive pastors I have ever known, with his sharp eye for human life and his skilled preaching style,” says Don Saliers, theologian in residence for Emory’s Candler School of Theology, who worked with Shockley for more than a decade. “He was an innovator in religious life at Emory. He was attentive to undergraduate learning patterns and social/political concerns.”

That attentiveness led to numerous developments within the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life designed to reach different audiences. During his tenure at Emory, Shockley engaged more than 15 professional staff as campus ministers and saw the development of almost 30 student religious organizations on campus. He was instrumental in launching the Voices of Inner Strength gospel choir, initiated and chaired Emory’s celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and began a series of programs on ethics in the professions to reach students in different schools. 

Saliers and Hauk both say that one of Shockley’s most noteworthy initiatives was to be present during the first-year anatomy lab in the School of Medicine. 

“He offered pastoral support and simple moral encouragement during this time when students were confronting human mortality, possibly for the first time in their lives,” Hauk says. “At the end of the course he would preside at a service of thanksgiving for the men and women who had donated their bodies to medical education.” 

Shockley received a bachelor of divinity degree from Candler School of Theology in 1962. He served several churches and colleges in his native Alabama and the University of Redlands in Southern California before his tenure at Emory. He also served for nine years as Assistant General Secretary for Campus Ministry at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church. In that role he led the effort to reestablish the United Methodist Student Movement and was instrumental in creating a national United Methodist youth organization in Russia. 

“I have always heard Don’s name spoken of so highly in national chaplains’ circles as a true leader in our field,” says Rev. Greg McGonigle, university chaplain and dean of spiritual and religious life. “He was instrumental in securing an endowment that is vital to our ongoing work and his legacy continues to bless the Emory campus. We wish his soul peace and his family comfort.” 

Shockley married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Jim Lyons; she pre-deceased him in 2014 after 55 years of marriage. He is survived by their children Scott, James and Allison; and grandchildren Morgan, Jordan, Juno, Colin, Matthew and Jimmy.

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