William D. Geoghegan

William D. Geoghegan died on April 25, 2015, in Brunswick. 

(The following appeared in The Portland Press Herald, April 30 – May 1, 2015):

BRUNSWICK – William Davidson Geoghegan, 92, died on April 25, at Midcoast Senior Health Center in Brunswick after a long illness. Born on July 16, 1922, to Presley Downs and Mildred Davidson Geoghegan in Wilmington, Del., Bill grew up both bookish and athletic in Delaware City, Del. His grandmother, Emma Cleaver Davidson, and his aunt, Bernice Davidson Abrams, played a large part in his upbringing.

At 17, Bill left for Yale University, where he majored in philosophy and became a fan of cinema. He was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa as a junior. Upon graduating magna cum laude, he attended Harvard Divinity School for a year, studying under Rufus Jones. He received his Bachelor of Divinity magna cum laude from Drew Theological Seminary in 1945 and was ordained a Methodist minister. At Drew, he met and successfully wooed Sarah Elizabeth (Betty) Phelps, to whom he was married from 1946 until her death in 2013.

Bill served briefly as a parish minister in Christiana, Del., until scholarship called, when he enrolled in a doctoral program administered jointly by Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University. Eminent theologians, most notably Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr, taught and inspired him. He received his Ph.D. in 1950. His dissertation, “Varieties of Platonism in Contemporary Religious Thought,” became the book entitled Platonism in Recent Religious Thought (Columbia, 1958).

Bill took his first academic post, which included the chaplaincy, at the University of Rochester. Then in 1954 he went to Bowdoin College, where he oversaw the chapel program and began developing the Department of Religion. Early on he taught mostly Biblical studies and philosophy of religion. He passionately supported Bowdoin athletics, particularly hockey and football. Many classes of Bowdoin students admired his red suspenders as well as his challenging, thought-provoking, and entertaining teaching style. In 1981, he received the Alumni Award for Faculty and Staff. Bowdoin named him Professor of Religion Emeritus in 1994.

As years passed, Bill pursued more deeply his interests in mysticism, creativity in art and religion, and Jungian psychology. In 1980, he founded the Bowdoin College Jung Seminar, and in 1990, he co-founded the Bowdoin-Brunswick C.G. Jung Center for Studies in Analytical Psychology. A former student, Kevin L. Stoehr of Boston University, in 2002, compiled a book of interviews with Bill and published it as Jung’s Psychology As A Spiritual Practice & Way Of Life: A Dialogue. Bill’s Socratic style of pedagogy reached beyond the bounds of the college, to the Jung Center and to many adult classes at First Parish Church in Brunswick.

Working according to the academic calendar, Bill was able to spend entire summers with Betty and their four children at Lake Wentworth in Wolfeboro, N.H., engaged in boating, water sports, rainy-day movies, reading, word games, play-going, and woods work. The children and grandchildren continue those traditions.

From the 1950s to 2009, Bill kept a journal and long used it as the basis for detailed weekly letters to his mother and aunt and grown children. In middle age, Bill took up walking, eventually covering sixteen miles a day, and expressing more and more appreciation for Brunswick’s natural beauty. One of his and Betty’s proudest achievements was to receive early on from the Town of Brunswick an award for recycling.

Bill was preceded in death by his wife, Betty; his son, William D. Geoghegan II (Bowdoin 1978); and his brother, Joseph H. Geoghegan. He is survived by his children Grace Geoghegan Wilson and her husband Rev. Thomas Wilson of Elizabeth City, N.C., Andrew Phelps Geoghegan and his wife Gloria Pinza of Cape Elizabeth, Rev. Emily Bernice Geoghegan and her partner Rev. Leanne Tigert of Concord, N.H., by his daughter-in-law Abbie Weld Brown of Brunswick; by his sister-in-law Imogene Bragg Geoghegan of Wilmington, Del.; and by two nephews and one niece. He has nine grandchildren: Alfred, Emily, and Frank Wilson; Kate and Joseph Geoghegan; Rachel and Sarah Umberger; and Caroline (Bowdoin 2012) and Will Geoghegan.

Memorial contributions may be directed to either the
William D. Geoghegan
Scholarship Fund
Bowdoin College
c/o the Development Office
4100 College Station
Brunswick, ME 04011
or to
First Parish Church
9 Cleaveland Street
Brunswick, Maine