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Yale 62

David Wills
January 25, 1942 – January 18, 2024

David WillsDavid Wills, 81, of Amherst, passed away peacefully on January 18, after a year-long battle with lymphoma. He will be remembered as a kind, generous, and profoundly insightful man who valued his family, his faith, and his professional craft as a teacher and scholar.

David was born on January 25, 1942 to Theodore and Elizabeth, in Portland, Indiana. David eventually moved to Monrovia, California, where he met and married Carolyn Montgomery in 1964. The two went on to have three sons, John, Ted, and Thomas, who, in time, produced six grandchildren.

David enjoyed a long and rewarding career in academia. He prepared for Yale at Monrovia High School in Portland, Oregon. At Yale he was a history honors major and ranking scholar, he won the Schroeder Scholarship and Award. He was the chief aid in Calhoun College, and co-chairman of the vespers committee, on the council and players and played basketball and softball. Beyond Calhoun he was vice-chairman of the Young Democrats, participated in the Dwight Hall Christian fellowship, the Westminster Foundation, the P.U. and still managed to graduate Phi Beta Kappa! He roomed with Neil Baronberg, Rodney Hunter, and Richard Trimble.

After Yale he graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1966, and earned his Ph.D. in Religion and Society in 1975 from Harvard University. He joined the faculty of Amherst College in 1972, where he would teach until his retirement in 2018. Profoundly dedicated to his scholarship and teaching, he was a mentor to students and colleagues, alike. A discerning, insightful, and meticulous historian, David’s scholarly interests were broad and diverse, often exploring the nexus of history, religion, and the African American experience. Although he spent some time in the Black Studies and American Studies departments at Amherst College, the Religion Department was his true home.

David was a man of great personal integrity, epitomized by his commitment to social justice in both his personal conduct and his scholarship. He was thoroughly thorough, and conscientiously conscientious, and these qualities permeated all his loves and passions. He took delight in thinking deeply, and in engaging in lively discourse. This was true in his scholarly pursuits, but equally true when discussing the Red Sox’s prospects – poor, given their questionable starting pitching – or the optimal time to depart for a 6:00 dinner reservation – 5:23, clearly – or how to approach dessert – get one of everything and extra forks. He delighted in his family, and particularly in his role as granddaddy, and treasured annual family gatherings on North Carolina’s coast, and later at Lake Champlain in Vermont. To his family, his students, and his colleagues he was generous with his time, his energy, and with his thoughts (not to mention his extensive supply of jelly beans, gum drops, fudge, and malted milk balls). He was a great listener, adept at making the comments or asking the questions that would help one reach clarity without being prescriptive or overtly directive. He was a devoted member of the Grace Episcopal Church congregation throughout his years living in Amherst and contributed regularly and generously to innumerable charities and organizations.

David was predeceased by his parents, Theodore and Elizabeth. He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Carolyn, their son John Wills and his wife, Cynthia, and their two children, Alexandria and Elliot; their son Theodore and his wife, Melanie, and their three children, Maya, Ethan, and Owen; and their son, Thomas, and his daughter, Samantha. David also leaves an older brother, Theodore.

— John Harger Stewart