Holland Lee Hendrix, 14th President of Union, Dies at 66

Categories: Union News

Union Theological Seminary mourns the loss of our esteemed President Emeritus, Holland Lee Hendrix.  He died on Wednesday, November 26, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, of lung cancer, according to his family.

A graveside memorial service will be held on Saturday, December 20, at 10 a.m., at Chandler Memorial Cemetery, 620 Old Tyler Road, Chandler, Texas.

Holland Hendrix first came to Union as a student.  In 1975 he graduated with two degrees at the same commencement: the MDiv and STM.  He then undertook doctoral study in New Testament at Harvard Divinity School, where he received his ThD under Professor Helmut Koester.  Before returning to Union in 1990 as Academic Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament, Dr. Hendrix taught at Haverford College and Barnard College, where he was also Director of Academic Development.  During his years at Barnard he taught courses at Union, to enthusiastic acclaim from both students and faculty colleagues.

He was an expert on the New Testament and archaeology.  His doctoral dissertation centered on archeological study of Greek cities of the New Testament era and the institution of “benefactor” in the life of those cities.  He was the author most notably of Thessalonicians Honor Romans, among other works.

Elected President of Union in the spring of 1991, Dr. Hendrix was lauded for his intellectual, spiritual, and administrative gifts.  Although not an ordained minister, he was an active member of the Southern Baptist Church growing up; as he delved deeper into critical and historical study of the Bible, he switched his denominational affiliation to Unitarian Universalist.

He was the first Unitarian President of Union.  He said that while some Unitarians do not believe that Jesus is God, he was from what he called “the Christian wing” of the denomination.

Presciently committed to reframing climate control as a moral issue, Dr. Hendrix said at the time of his appointment that Union and other seminaries had a responsibility to work for global environment awareness.  He felt that theological education had become increasingly marginalized in the prior few decades, and worked during his presidency to reassert Union’s role in academe, the church and the world.  Seminaries also had a responsibility to work to end armed conflict, he said, noting that most conflicts around the world were caused by religious conflict.

When Dr. Hendrix announced in the fall of 1997 that he would step down as President of Union at the end of the academic year, the Rev. Dr. Forrester Church — his pastor at the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York City, and a long-time friend since their days as students together at Harvard — wrote a personal tribute for the Winter 1998Union News:

“Holly’s tenure among us has been nothing short of spectacular,” Dr. Church wrote.  “The word that jumps to mind is kairos” — the right time or time fulfilled.  “In almost every respect, Holly’s presidency represents the shared fulfillment of his own and Union’s promise.  He possesses a rare combination of qualities: fiscal conservatism, theological liberalism, social vision, and Biblical inspiration.”

Dr. Hendrix was also extremely popular with students.  Students interviewed at the time of his appointment as President, noted the New York Times, “warmly welcomed the appointment of Dr. Hendrix…  As a sign of their affection for him, a group of students published a flier showing Dr. Hendrix’s head on the body of the late rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix after the appointment was announced.”

After leaving Union, Dr. Hendrix served in various capacities, among them: President and CEO of the Echoing Green Foundation for start-up social entrepreneurs; Chief Advancement Officer for Hampshire College (Amherst MA); Executive Director of the Department of Philanthropy for the Anglican Church of Canada; and Director of Advancement, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto.

Dr. Hendrix is survived by his brother Dee and his wife Charla, of Tyler, Texas; and by three nieces and three nephews, all of Texas.  His brother Clyde predeceased him.