Bangor remembers longtime theologian

Posted Jan. 07, 2009, at 7:37 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 10:48 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — There were tears and laughter at the Rev. Burton Throckmorton’s funeral Wednesday afternoon: Laughs over his “utter uniqueness” and tears over the loss of a loved one and scholar who taught all who knew him the meaning of justice, acceptance and thanksgiving.

“You always remember the first person who believed in you,” Don Snyder, author and longtime friend, said to those gathered at Throckmorton’s funeral in the Hammond Street Congregational Church.

For Snyder, Throckmorton was that person. Snyder met him at the age of 16 when he baby-sat Throckmorton’s two young sons, Timothy, who is now a sportscaster for WABI-TV, and Hamilton, who is a minister in Ohio.

“He saw what you could not see,” he said. “He saw value.” In Snyder, Throckmorton saw “that I could make a difference.”

Throckmorton was a New Testament scholar for more than six decades, with 35 years as a theologian at Bangor Theological Seminary. He also was an author, who dedicated much of his long life translating Scripture into inclusive language. He died on Saturday at the age of 87.

“His door, even when it was closed, was always open,” Snyder said, adding later: “He was always there for me.”

His wife of 57 years, the Rev. Ansley Coe Throckmorton, sat in the front row of the church, surrounded by family.

One of his sons, the Rev. Hamilton Throckmorton, took to pulpit to tell stories about his dad that highlighted his unique style and made those gathered at the funeral break out in laughter that echoed through the church.

He went on to say his dad was passionate about helping those who had been slighted, and making the language of the Bible and Scripture inclusive, by replacing or rephrasing English that contained negative or stereotypical references based on race, gender, physical disabilities or ethnic sensibilities.

For example, when humankind is referred to as mankind, it gives a negative connotation to women, which is something his dad addressed in his translations, Hamilton Throckmorton said.

“That work had a huge impact on me as a youth as well as others,” he said.

His book “Gospel Parallels: A Synopsis of the First Three Gospels,” first published in 1949, has been used for 60 years in most theological schools throughout the county, and is one of several books he penned during his lifetime.

Throckmorton worked his way through college as a professional vaudeville dancer with his sister, and earned his bachelor’s degree from The Juilliard School in New York in 1943. Two years later, he earned his bachelor of divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York and began teaching there while finishing his doctorate of philosophy from Columbia University, which he attained in 1952. He met his wife while a young teacher at Union Theological Seminary, where she was his student. They married in 1951.

The Throckmortons came to Bangor in 1954 when he took a position at BTS as the Hayes Professor of New Testament Language and Literature, a post he held for more than 3½ decades. After retiring from the seminary in 1989, Throckmorton taught in the University of Maine Honors Program until 2001. He also was an ordained Presbyterian minister.

“When a light as fine as Burt’s goes down and vanishes, we are lost for a while … and that’s how it should be,” Snyder said.

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