Floyd Greenleaf, Adventist Educator, Historian, Dies at 90

He authored pivotal books on Adventist history, including In Passion for the World.

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review
Floyd Greenleaf, Adventist Educator, Historian, Dies at 90
Floyd Greenleaf. [Photo: courtesy of the Greenleaf Family]

Floyd Lincoln Greenleaf, a renowned Seventh-day Adventist educator whose career spanned decades of history teaching, research, and publishing, died in Hendersonville, North Carolina, United States, on April 1, 2022. He was 90.

Greenleaf was well known in Adventist educational and historians’ circles in North America and beyond. Besides publishing numerous professional articles, he authored pivotal works about Adventist education such as The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Latin America and the Caribbean (Andrews University Press, 1992), and co-authored Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (Pacific Press, 2000). In 2005, Pacific Press published what is arguably his most well-known work, In Passion for the World: A History of Seventh-day Adventist Education. In 2011, Casa Publicadora Brasileira published Greenleaf’s A Land of Hope: The Growth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in South America.

General Conference education director Lisa Beardsley-Hardy said she felt privileged to have known Greenleaf. “It was a personal privilege to get to know Dr. Greenleaf and to spend some time with both him and his wife, Betty, in their retirement years. That is where I discovered that Dr. Greenleaf had a wonderful twinkle in his eye, and a warm commitment to the mission of the church in addition to being an eminent scholar,” Beardsley-Hardy said. “We pray that God’s Spirit will comfort Betty and the whole family in their loss, and that the hope of the resurrection in Christ will sustain them.”

A Fruitful Life

Floyd Lincoln Greenleaf was born on September 23, 1931, in Braintree, Vermont, United States, in the home of Calvin W. Greenleaf and Evelyn (Ladeau) Greenleaf. He graduated from Forest Lake Academy in Apopka, Florida, in 1949, received a Bachelor of Arts in history and religion at Southern Missionary College (1955), and a Master of Arts in history from George Peabody College in Nashville, Tennessee (1961). In 1977, he received a PhD in history from the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Greenleaf taught elementary and junior high students at Pensacola, Florida; Birmingham and Mobile, Alabama; and at Bass Memorial Academy in Lumberton, Mississippi. In 1966, he joined the history department at Southern Missionary College (now Southern Adventist University), where he served as professor, chair of the department, and academic vice-president for 31 years until his retirement in 1997.

In retirement, he and Betty were active members of the Port Charlotte Seventh-day Adventist Church in Port Charlotte, Florida, from 1998 to 2020, before moving to Fletcher, North Carolina, in 2021. Floyd enjoyed stamp collecting, baseball, woodworking, fine-line ink drawing, and writing poetry. He studied his Sabbath School lesson in English, Italian, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.

Greenleaf is survived by his beloved wife, Betty, whom he married in 1952, and with whom he had three children, four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. His sister Velma Pendleton also survives him. A memorial service was held May 15, 2022, at the Collegedale Seventh-day Adventist Church in Collegedale, Tennessee.

In Passion for the World

In the foreword he wrote for In Passion for the World in 2005, Greenleaf explained that his history of Seventh-day Adventist education was a story about “conviction, dedication, commitment, and mission.” He added, “Whether it was the commitment that propelled the ox carts through the African wilderness to Solusi [near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe] or the mission of the Loma Linda University Medical Center Heart Team [in Loma Linda, California, United States], a single thread weaves its way through the tapestry of Adventist schools — the conviction to reach the ears as well as the minds of the people of the world.”

The title of the book comes from a poem that Homer R. Salisbury, a young missionary who would perish at sea in 1915, penned. “Stir me, O stir me, Lord, I care not how / But stir my heart in passion for the world.” According to Greenleaf, that burden in Salisbury’s heart caused him “to relentlessly argue in favor of running church schools despite the pessimism of church leaders.” Greenleaf explained that Salisbury’s passion for the world took him to South Africa to Battle Creek College and to England to establish the forerunner of Newbold College, and ultimately to India. “And yet,” Greenleaf wrote, “Salisbury was only one of many who gave their all for Christian education.”

According to Beardsley-Hardy, that book, together with Light Bearers, which Greenleaf wrote with Richard W. Schwarz, have been extremely important in communicating to a wider public the history of Adventist education. “Both of these books will stand the test of time because of the quality of research and their balanced retelling of history in the context of mission,” she said.

Marcos Paseggi, Adventist Review