Rev. Dr. F. Thomas Trotter, the former general secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), died peacefully on July 26, 2019 at the age of 93.
Trotter was known as a visionary leader throughout the United Methodist Church and the world of higher education. He led GBHEM from 1973 to 1987 and the agency underwent a major period of expansion under his guidance.
Trotter was instrumental in creating GBHEM’s Office of Loans & Scholarships, opening the door to higher education for more United Methodist students through financial aid. While general secretary, he also helped strengthened and expand the national and international associations of Methodist colleges and universities and oversaw the launch of a pooled investment group and insurance group for United Methodist schools. Additionally, it was under Trotter’s leadership that GBHEM became a partner in the founding of Africa University – a United Methodist-related institution in Zimbabwe.
“Rev. Dr. Trotter left a lasting legacy at GBHEM. His work to expand our educational networks and financial aid programs has helped thousands of United Methodist students make their dream of higher education a reality,” said Rev. Greg Bergquist, acting general secretary of GBHEM.
Trotter continued to shape and influence students throughout his career. After leaving GBHEM, he served as president of Alaska Pacific University (1987-1995) and then interim president of Claremont School of Theology (1999-2000). He remained a member of Claremont’s Board of Trustees until his death.
Trotter wrote regularly for newspapers in Nashville and Anchorage and authored four influential books: “Jesus and the Historian,” “Loving God with One’s Mind,” “Politics, Morality and Higher Education,” and “God is With Us.”
“It is hard to overstate the influence of Tom Trotter on United Methodist education. He was a trailblazer and mentor for the church and the academy,” said Rev. Dr. Kim Cape, retired general secretary of GBHEM. “I turn again and again to his reminder to love God with our minds. It has become my North Star, reminding both the church and the academy that if we pursue truth long enough and unflinchingly enough we will fall at last into the arms of Christ.”
Trotter was known for thoughtful passages that forced readers to confront the nature of their faith, like this one from “Loving God with One’s Mind”:
“There are many ways of loving God, some helpful, some problematic. Some love God with their selfless service to neighbor. Some love God by the diligent attention to the care of the things of God. Some love God by blindly following their partial views of God. Some love their views of God more than they love God. Some think loving God means hating those who love God differently. The problem in the world is not that the world is irreligious. It is excessively religious, but the religious spirit is cramped and angular and hostile to the widest angles of God’s love.”
In his many years as a pastor, educator, author and general secretary, Trotter sought to find the widest angles of God’s love and share it with the world.
Trotter is survived by his wife of 66 years, Gania Demaree Trotter; his daughters, Ruth, Tania and Mary; his sons-in-law, Greg, Brett and Robert; and his grandchildren, Thomas, Daniel and Wesley.
A memorial celebration of Trotter’s life has been scheduled for August 31st at 11 a.m. at Claremont United Methodist Church, Claremont, CA.
About GBHEM: The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s mission is to build capacity for United Methodist lay and clergy leaders to discover, claim and flourish in Christ’s calling in their lives, by creating connections and providing resources to aid in recruitment, education, professional development and spiritual formation. Every elder, deacon and licensed local pastor benefits from our training and candidacy programs. Many young adults find help in clarifying their vocation and God’s call in their lives through our leadership and discernment programs. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook: @GBHEM.