Richard D. Tholin, Emeritus Professor of Christian Social Ethics and Academic Dean at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, United Methodist minister, activist and a long-time resident of Evanston, passed away March 12. His faith, peace, justice, community service and love of neighbor were as one in whatever he taught or did.
Over the years he instructed hundreds of soon-to-be pastors on the importance of understanding the social and economic issues of the communities they would serve.
Forty-some years ago, while living in Naperville, he was one of seven plaintiffs who sued DuPage County for promoting racial discrimination in housing. The suit was settled 10 years later in favor of the plaintiffs. He also helped Naperville become the second Chicago suburb to adopt a Fair Housing Ordinance.
“He introduced us to community organizing, taking my class to Humboldt Park and the Northwest Community Organization,” said Rev. Dr. Martha Scott, a former student and later a teaching colleague. “He took us to night court to see some of the struggles of people without resources, and to the Board of Trade to understand the economic forces that affect rural communities and cities. These experiences shaped my understandings of the ministry and ultimately those of countless other ministry students.”
“He taught ethics – but he was also an ethical human being who taught with his whole life,” Rev. Scott said.
In 1963, he joined a group of ministers on a trip to Jackson, Mississippi, to walk with African American students into White churches, risking arrest and solidifying his commitment to racial justice in the north.
Prof. Tholin helped organize opposition to the war in Vietnam, stood up for draft-aged young men resisting the draft and was a leader and board chair of North Suburban Peace Initiative, now called Chicago Area Peace Action.
His work with the United Methodist Church influenced numerous regional and national policies and actions. During his 16 years on the National Boards of Church and Society and Global Ministries, he worked with African leaders on the development of the United Methodist Church in Africa, represented the church in the successful effort to stop Nestle from undermining breastfeeding in developing countries and helped lead an ecumenical dialogue on death and dying.
He was arrested in 2000 while participating in a demonstration in support of LGBTQ rights and an inclusive church. He officiated at same sex unions, prior to and after the legalization of gay marriage.
Prof. Tholin developed a passion for Chicago history. Combing estate sales and auctions, he built his collection and together with his wife Phyllis, sold books at book fairs across the region.
“He saw Chicago as a place where culture comes from the people and that was important to him,” according to Kenan Heise, a journalist and fellow Chicago book collector.
Prof. Tholin’s extensive personal collection was donated to his alma mater North Central College in 2008.
At 80, he was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia.
“It was a cruel irony and tragedy that this man who all his life used his words to inspire, teach and persuade had his voice silenced while he still had so much to say,” said Kathy Tholin, his daughter.
Survivors include his wife, Phyllis, daughters Kathy and Barbara Tholin, and son David Tholin, as well as two grandchildren, Robin Starr Tholin and Ellis Wunsch.
A memorial service will be held 10:30 a.m. May 11 at the United Church of Rogers Park, 1545 W. Morse Ave., Chicago. Memorial donations can be made to United Church of Rogers Park, the Richard Tholin scholarship fund at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary or Chicago Area Peace Action.