Hardin led 3 United Methodist-related colleges
Few if any United Methodist educators could match the legacy of Paul Hardin III.
The son of a Methodist Church bishop, he served as president of three United Methodist-related colleges, Wofford College, Southern Methodist University and Drew University. He taught law at a fourth, Duke University.
Hardin capped off his career as chancellor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He held the title chancellor emeritus when he died at his Chapel Hill home on July 1, at 86, having had ALS. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease.
“He was a principled Christian leader who loved to build and innovate everywhere he served,” said retired United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon, a Wofford alumnus who teaches at Duke Divinity School.
The current presidents of all three schools Hardin led issued statements praising him.
“Higher education in our country lost a stalwart, effective and greatly admired member of its community,” said SMU president Gerald Turner.
Hardin was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, to Paul Hardin Jr. and Dorothy Reel Hardin. His father served Methodist churches in North Carolina and in Birmingham, Alabama, before his election to the episcopacy in 1960.
Bishop Hardin is remembered, in part, as one of the eight Alabama clergyman to whom the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963. Though those men had publicly opposed the civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, some of them, notably Hardin, had taken progressive stands on race, and the Hardin family once had a crossed burned in their yard.
Paul Hardin III loved to tell stories of growing up as a preacher’s kid, Willimon said. Hardin, who Willimon said was “an every-Sunday worshipper at his beloved University United Methodist Church" in Chapel Hill, would make his mark as a layman.
He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Duke, in Durham, North Carolina, in 1952, and went on to Duke’s law school, finishing first in his class and serving as editor-in-chief of the law review.
Hardin served in a U.S. Army counterintelligence unit, and practiced law before joining the law faculty at Duke. There, he took on the issue of open housing in Durham, Willimon said.
Meanwhile, Hardin was active in Methodist work, serving as associate lay leader of the North Carolina Conference and as a delegate to the 1968 General Conference that created The United Methodist Church from a merger of the Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren.
That same year, at age 37, Hardin moved to Spartanburg, South Carolina, to become Wofford’s president. He continued the school’s progress in integration and hired its first African-American administrator. He also allowed a much broader range of points of view among speakers on campus, and added free-speech protections for students.
In 1972, Hardin became president of SMU in Dallas. He served only through 1974, having gotten crosswise with some trustees, in part because he insisted on dealing openly and forthrightly with a scandal in the football program. (In 1987, SMU would have its football program temporarily shut down by the NCAA for repeat violations.)
Hardin moved on to Drew, in Madison, New Jersey, serving as president from 1975 to 1988.
During his tenure, Drew became home to the United Methodist Archives and History Center.
The Rev. Robert Williams, retired top executive of the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History, said it was the idea of Kenneth Rowe, a professor of church history at Drew Theological School, to bring the archives there from Lake Junaluska, North Carolina.
“Ken’s vision of what was possible, along with Paul having caught the vision, was what brought it to Drew,” Williams said. “Without Paul Hardin, it would never have gotten to Drew.”
It was under Hardin that Drew committed to constructing a state-of-the-art building for the archives, an offer that proved persuasive and led to the 1982 move, Williams said.
There was some irony in Hardin’s advocacy for the project, and his aggressive fundraising for it.
“Here you have a son of the South, son of a southern bishop, and he’s instrumental in bringing the archives out of Lake Junaluska up to the Drew campus,” Williams said.
Hardin would return to the South, serving as chancellor of UNC-Chapel Hill from 1988 to 1995.
He led the school through its bicentennial celebration and a related, five-year fundraising campaign that yielded $440 million in private gifts — $120 million more than projected.
“Paul seized upon Carolina’s 200th birthday as an opportunity to light the way to a better future and open Carolina’s doors for all North Carolinians,” said Chancellor Carol Folt in a statement. “Paul was warm and gracious and remained very involved with Carolina after his retirement. He will be greatly missed.”
Hardin’s survivors include his wife of 63 years, Barbara Russell Hardin, three children, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, July 8, at University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests gifts go to The Robert and Martha Gillikin Library Fund in honor of Paul and Barbara Hardin at the UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries, the Duke University ALS Clinic, the Paul Hardin Scholarship Fund at the Duke Law School or the Hardin-Russell Endowment Fund at Lake Junaluska Assembly.
Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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