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In Memorium: Meredith "Jerry" Handspicker

Dear Friends of Andover Newton,

I am sorry to inform you that beloved long-time faculty member, Dr. Meredith “Jerry” Handspicker, died earlier this week.  He is remembered with great appreciation and affection by Andover Newton faculty, alumni/ae, and others who have been part of the wider Andover Newton community. 

Professor Mark Heim offered this tribute:  “Jerry Handspicker was an extraordinary colleague.  He reveled in his reputation as a “utility infielder” who over the years at Andover Newton taught everything from theology to worship to neuro-linguistic programming, who led students in work at the Blue Hill Christian Center in Boston, headed field education practicums for them, and counseled them during their intern years (in a time when Andover Newton had such).  I never knew anyone with Jerry’s breadth of curiosity and passion for learning… He was a deeply devout and committed pastor who could bring you to tears with laughter or up short with a well-placed profanity when the occasion demanded it.  He left his impression on generations of students, because he was a student himself.”

What follows is a lovely and fitting obituary.  Please note, near the end of the obituary, there is information about a memorial service, which will be held in Bennington, Vermont on Saturday, March 12.

I am sure you will want to join me in offering prayers for Jerry’s family.


Martin (Copenhaver)

Meredith Brook “Jerry” Handspicker

Dr. Meredith Brook “Jerry” Handspicker, 83, completed his earthly journey on Sunday, February 28th, at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington, VT, buoyed by the support of his loving wife, Deborah Perkins, by family and friends who had gathered during his brief final illness, and by his deeply compassionate nurses, doctors and other caregivers.

Born June 25, 1932, in Malden, MA, to Louise Donley Handspicker and Meredith Purdy Handspicker, Jerry grew up in Malden and graduated from Malden High School.  He then went on to Bates College, where he met his first wife, Diane “Dee” West, and they were married in 1955 when he was a student at Yale Divinity School. Jerry and Dee were married for 41 years before she passed away in 1996. Their children, Amy (Handspicker) Swisher, Jared Handspicker, and Nathan Handspicker, were born while Jerry completed his graduate studies at Yale.  He was ordained into the United Church of Christ in 1957, and in 1961 was appointed to the faculty at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, MA. 

Jerry was a teacher and mentor.  He spent 34 years of his career as a Professor of Theology at Andover Newton before retiring in 1999; served as co-director of the Case Study Institute of the Association of Theological Schools from 1974-77; was an instructor in ecumenism and religious pluralism with the U.S. Naval Chaplains School from 1975-81; and in 1994 served as a lecturer in Psychiatry with the Harvard Medical School Center for Addiction Studies. 

Jerry was a pastor.  Alongside his teaching career, he officiated at countless weddings, baptisms, and funerals; counseled couples and individuals; supported the applications of conscientious objectors during the Vietnam War; accompanied young people to court; helped organize emergency shelter for street kids in downtown Boston; and served area churches as a supply preacher and part-time interim minister.  Following his retirement, he filled longer term interim roles at churches in Rutland, VT, Pittsfield, MA, and Williamstown, MA.

Jerry was a peacemaker.  He began his civil rights work while at Yale, continued at Andover Newton, and then inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., joined other clergy at the 1963 March on Washington. Later that year, he and his family moved to Geneva, Switzerland where Jerry spent the next four years as a member of the Secretariat on Faith and Order with the World Council of Churches.  Following his retirement, Jerry and his daughter, Amy, formed a conflict management consultancy, working with churches, businesses and schools throughout Vermont.  And Jerry was an outspoken advocate of Civil Unions in Vermont, bringing his Biblical perspective to bear on gay and lesbian rights.

Jerry was a scholar.  As an undergraduate, he set the pace by double-majoring in Physics and Philosophy, interests he carried forward throughout his life, in 1996 and 1998, receiving Templeton Awards for outstanding teaching of science and religion.  Intrigued by the applications of Neuro-Linguistic Programming in his teaching and counseling, Jerry became a master NLP programmer in 1982.  And a life-long student of the poetry of Robert Frost, he served as a docent and on the board of the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in Shafstbury, VT, following his retirement. With a pile of books and journals always by his side, Jerry was known for his bibliographic mind and constant literary references.

Above all, Jerry was an enthusiast.  Passionate about his family and work, and recognized for his explosive laugh, he enjoyed meeting people and exploring new places and ideas until the last days of his life.  In 1997, when he married Deb Perkins, he and she created a lovely home together in Vermont, where they reveled in nature and welcomed a continual stream of visitors.

Jerry is survived by his wife and three children; his daughter Amy’s partner, Tom Timmins; five grandchildren: Emily Swisher-Rosa, Evan Swisher, Julia (Handspicker) Edwards, Sara Handspicker, and Connor Handspicker; Emily’s husband, Adriano Rosa, and Julia’s husband, Dan Edwards; four great grandchildren: Gabriel, Tavi, Levi, and Malikai Swisher-Rosa; and nine nieces and nephews, including Brian Dewitt Handspicker, who was like a third son to Jerry.  Jerry was pre-deceased by his parents and his brother, Brian Purdy Handspicker.

A service in celebration of Jerry’s life will be held Saturday, March 12th at 2pm at the Second Congregational Church in Bennington.  In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Bennington-Rutland Opportunity Council through the Hanson-Walbridge & Shea Funeral Home: 213 West Main Street, Bennington, VT  05201.

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