La Sierra University’s Founding President Fritz Guy Passes to His Rest

Beloved scholar died at 93 after an acute cardiovascular event.

La Sierra University News
La Sierra University’s Founding President Fritz Guy Passes to His Rest
A portrait of Doctor Fritz Guy taken at La Sierra University in 2015. [Photo: Natan Vigna]

La Sierra University is saddened to announce the passing of its founding president, Fritz Guy, who died on July 25 in Longview, Washington, United States, at the age of 93.

He died following an acute cardiovascular event.

Guy served as president of La Sierra University from 1990 to 1993 during its first years of reorganization following La Sierra’s separation from Loma Linda University. As an institution, La Sierra University was established in 1922 and, following several iterations, functioned as a campus of Loma Linda University from 1967 to 1990.

Born in St. Cloud, Minnesota, in 1930 and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Guy traveled to California by bus in 1948 to enroll at what was then La Sierra College. Initially studying physics and then English, he switched to theology under the influence of Edward Heppenstall. He pastored in the Southeastern California Conference before moving to Washington, D.C., where he earned M.A. and B.D. degrees at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University and served as assistant editor of “The Youth’s Instructor.”

He joined the La Sierra faculty in 1961. From 1964 to 1968, a study leave took him to the University of Chicago Divinity School, where distinguished historian of American religion Martin E. Marty later recalled: “Years after [Guy] left [the University of Chicago Divinity School], … Langdon Gilkey … was doing some reviewing of our graduates. I remember him saying that when he looked over the cohort of students and graduates, he said that as good a theological mind as he’d met at Chicago, a mind well put to use, was Fritz Guy’s.”

Soon after earning his Ph.D. from Chicago in 1971 for a dissertation that focused on time and temporality in philosophy and theology, Guy became associate dean and then dean of what was by then Loma Linda University’s College of Arts and Sciences. He left the dean’s office to join the faculty of Andrews University in 1977 before returning to California in 1984 thanks to lifelong friend Louis Venden, then pastor of the Loma Linda University Church, where he took up a position as associate pastor with special responsibility for university faculty and staff relations.

As president of the newly independent La Sierra University in 1990, Guy led the formation of a distinctive university identity and crafted the university’s mission — “to enlarge human understanding in a contemporary Seventh-day Adventist Christian context” — as well as its aims and ideals and supported the development of a robust system of faculty governance. After returning to the faculty as university professor of theology and philosophy, he helped to lead the process of developing a new general education program for La Sierra. The school presented him with a Doctor of Divinity degree, honoris causa, in 2002 and honored him as its Alumnus of the Year in 2012.

In 2009, he was honored with the Charles Elliot Weniger Award for Excellence in recognition of his long career in ministry, theology, writing, and education for the Seventh-day Adventist church.

“Being a theologian in and for the church has been an extraordinary privilege and blessing, way beyond anything I have deserved,” Guy said in response to the award, sometimes informally referred to as the Adventist Oscars. “Life in, with, and for the church has been good. Occasional disappointment along the way has been far surpassed by great blessing.”

In 1954, Guy married Marcia J. Specht, niece of La Sierra Professor Walter Specht. They became the parents of three children: Linda Davis, Susan Reeder, and Richard. All three siblings and their spouses are alumni of La Sierra University. Marcia Guy died in 2006, and the Guy family established the Marcia Specht Guy Memorial Prize, awarding winners of La Sierra’s annual concerto competition in her honor.

Guy loved La Sierra University, which he viewed as a beacon of hope in the Adventist world and was delighted to live to see it reach its 100th anniversary. He will be remembered as an insightful, generous, rigorous, and highly capable scholar, teacher, and pastor who exemplified and fostered the university’s core values. His views are reflected in the following statement made during a homily he delivered a few years ago:

“The best way to be human is to be a person of faith. And the best way to be a person of faith is to be Christian. And the best way to be Christian is to be an Adventist. And the best way to be Adventist is to be at La Sierra.”

Guy’s respective presidential successors, Larry Geraty, Randal Wisbey, and Joy Fehr each commented on Guy’s profound personal and institutional impact.

“With the passing of Fritz Guy, La Sierra University has lost not only its first president but also one of its most illustrious alumni who came back to teach and administer over many years,” said Geraty, who steered the institution from 1993 to 2007 and is its president emeritus and foundation board executive director. “No other single person contributed more to making La Sierra University what it has become. Furthermore, given his theological training, insights, and writing, his impact on Adventism has been immeasurable and will be greatly missed.”

Wisbey, who led La Sierra from 2007 to 2019, cited Guy’s longstanding influence on his life from his days as a student and into his career and presidency.

“Dr. Fritz Guy was, first of all, my professor,” Wisbey said. “Little did I know that when I walked into his Philosophy of Religion class at the SDA Theological Seminary in 1982, I would be blessed to interact with him throughout my professional life. He was a remarkable teacher and an even better friend and colleague.”

Wisbey added, “As I reflect upon this news of Fritz’s passing, I recognize that I am infinitely better as a result of his dedicated and gracious life, as is La Sierra University.”

Fehr was appointed as La Sierra’s fourth university president in 2019 after serving as its provost and associate provost beginning in 2015. She lauded Guy’s passion for the institution and for sharing its compelling narrative.

“I first heard the full story of La Sierra’s beginnings and its commitment to scholarship and Adventist faith from Dr. Guy when, in the fall of 2015, he shared with new faculty during their first faculty orientation session the story of how La Sierra came to be,” she said. “His account of the visionary people who found a home in the geographical space that eventually became La Sierra University inspired his listeners, including myself.”

Bradford C. Newton, chair of the La Sierra University Board of Trustees and president of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, stated, “Through his leadership, Dr. Guy left a lasting impact on the La Sierra University community. He fostered a rigorous environment that prioritized academic excellence and the personal growth of our students, which continues to serve as a witness to God’s abundant leadership and grace. Dr. Guy will be remembered not only for his inquiring mind and professional achievements but also for his unwavering commitment to the highest ideals of our institution.”

Guy is survived by his three children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. A celebration of life service will be held at the La Sierra University Church in Riverside, California, on the afternoon of September 16.

The original version of this story was posted by La Sierra University.

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