It is with deep sadness and heartfelt appreciation that we at Claremont School of Theology (CST) acknowledge the life, legacy, and death of the Rev. Dr. F. Thomas Trotter, 93. Dr. Trotter died late Friday evening on July 26, 2019.
The Rev. Patricia Farris, Chair of CST’s Board of Trustees, reflects, “Tom Trotter was a significant mentor to me and many others. He had the gift of seeing things in us that we couldn’t yet see and claim for ourselves. He would persistently follow that up by opening doors to new opportunities, pointing to vistas of possibility, ministry, and service. He brought to his own life and ministry a love of art, theater, and literature that gave tremendous depth, richness, and nuance to his writing and theology. For Tom, that went hand-in-hand with his passionate commitment to the life of the mind and to the educational institutions of The United Methodist Church. He taught me the value of institutions—not as fossilized structures of the past but as essential foundation and framework for the support of limitless mission and ministry—incarnational, global in scope, and alive in the Spirit. We give thanks!”
Dr. Trotter dedicated his life to God and humanity in service of The United Methodist Church, and also, in so many ways, to Claremont School of Theology. Raised in Los Angeles, Dr. Trotter earned his BA (1950) from Occidental College and his STB (1953) and PhD (1958) from Boston University. He also holds honorary degrees from ten colleges and universities. His academic interests included religion and the arts, and religion in higher education.
He served the church as a pastor, and as chair to many organizations including the United Methodist Higher Education Foundation. He also served as the General Secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of The United Methodist Church for fourteen years, where he launched the United Methodist Africa University in Zimbabwe and contributed to the revitalization of academic standards of the University Senate.
Friend and colleague, the Rev. Ginny Wheeler, recalls, “Tom’s love for Africa University encouraged me to take thirty-four people on a work team to Africa University twenty years ago. The trip was a life changer for many of us, including my son, who has been working in Africa in education for the past eight years. Truly, a giant is gone.”
In the academy, Dr. Trotter served as President of Alaska Pacific University for ten years, leading the school to significant growth in programs and in private support. While Dr. Trotter dedicated more than two decades to CST—serving as a professor, a dean, an interim president, a member of the Board of Trustees, and as a faithful donor—his love and commitment to CST was lifelong.
CST President, the Rev. Dr. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, said, “It was an incredible honor of my life to have gotten to know Dr. F. Thomas Trotter well over these years of my presidency at CST. I would visit with him and Gania regularly to update him on CST. His humility and generosity of spirit have left an indelible mark on my life and leadership. He cared deeply about the school he helped build in the sixties and seventies, before he departed to serve as the General Secretary of GBHEM. I counted on and cherished his institutional memory and wisdom on our visits. They helped me understand the ‘Claremont Way’ from its earliest history. In my involvement with the UMC, Tom Trotter’s name came up often. He left behind a significant legacy at GBHEM and continued to be revered decades later. With his passing, the UMC has lost a giant in the denomination and CST has lost a former colleague, dear friend, and supporter.”
Dr. Trotter served on CST’s Board of Trustees for many years. Rev. Wheeler recalls of her time serving with Dr. Trotter on the board, “When working with Tom, I always felt more confident when he attended the meetings. I observed his leadership style of listening to each speaker express an opinion or give reports. He listened, and then succinctly summarized the different options or possibilities. Then he would gently speak from his years of experience and wisdom as a church leader and educator. Most importantly, he would begin to speak only after graciously thanking the person who brought the report. I can hear him now saying ‘Thank you for this well researched report,’ or ‘this information is very helpful to us.’”
CST’s Distinguished Pastor-in-Residence, the Rev. Dr. Faith Conklin, was a student at CST when Dr. Trotter was a professor and dean here. She reflects, “I’m grateful for Tom’s wisdom, his graciousness, his humor, his keen sense of perspective, his commitment to excellence, his compassion, and his devotion to Christ’s church. I particularly remember the class he taught connecting faith and literature. It was one of my favorites. He gave us new ways of bringing the gospel to the world and seeing the world through the lens of faith. Tom was also always about ‘connections’ and he expected us to be ‘engaged disciples.’ In his teaching, writings and sermons; he continually challenged us to find truth in unexpected places. He helped us see the familiar with fresh eyes. He knew the lessons of the past; he saw the needs of the present; he was always focused on new visions for the future. For Tom, it was always about equipping the saints.”
Dr. Trotter is survived by many close friends, colleagues, and family including his wife of sixty-six years, Gania Demaree Trotter; their three daughters, Ruth Trotter and her spouse Brett Watterson, Tania Trotter Batson and her spouse the Rev. Greg Batson, and Mary Trotter and her spouse Robert Kaufman; and grandchildren.
The family is planning a memorial service for Saturday, August 31, at Claremont United Methodist Church (211 W Foothill Boulevard, Claremont, CA 91711).
In 1997, at a celebration of Dr. Trotter’s fifty years of service to the church, the F. Thomas Trotter Endowed Scholarship was established at CST. Dr. Trotter was an active donor to CST for many years. In a speech delivered at an annual fundraising event, Dr. Trotter once said, “Giving to Claremont School of Theology is like planting a tree. It is an act of faith. We may not be privileged to see a seedling full grown, but we have confidence that it will be full grown…The issue is the faith that sees beyond the present and trusts God’s promises and see to it that the saints are equipped.” If you would like to make a donation in his honor to support students, please click here or contact the Office of Advancement and Communications at 909-447-6361 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Trotter Family will receive an acknowledgement of memorial donors.