02.07.07

Obituary

Posted in From Al & Libbie, General, Reflections at 10:14 pm by Libbie

Here is the obituary that was sent to the Philadelphia paper. If they print it at all, they will probably shorten it, so I thought I’d just put it up here as well. [UPDATE NOTE: The Philadelphia Inquirer obituary is now online here.] If you are interested in an account of Al’s more academic life, there is one on the Westminster website.

James Alan Groves was born December 17, 1952 in Springfield, Missouri to James and Jacqueline Groves. He was later joined by brother Warren, sister Jill, and brother Bryan. Their family lived in Springfield, Missouri; Bartlesville and Cushing, Oklahoma; Mankato and Rochester Minnesota; and Aberdeen, South Dakota, where Al graduated from high school in 1971.

Al’s childhood was a very happy one. He had a loving, secure family who helped mold him into the remarkable man he became, and he enjoyed all the aspects of a Midwest boyhood of a generation ago: pick-up sports of all kinds, fishing, playing army, exploring, and playing and swimming in creeks. Al became an Eagle Scout at fourteen, an accomplishment in which he took great pride.

At an early age Al was introduced to and captivated by the glory of basketball, which was a lifelong love of his. He played until his cancer set in at age fifty-three, often mixing it up with players half his age, and in the Netherlands playing with men up to twice as old as he was. He could wax lyrical about the beauty of the sport and also said that you could tell most of the important things about a person by their actions on the court, for instance whether they were selfish or team-oriented. Al was a team player. Like his basketball hero Larry Bird, he liked to make his teammates shine. This was certainly true in the rest of his life as well.

Also at an early age Al was introduced to and captivated by his greatest love of all: the Lord. When he realized at age ten that Jesus was not, as he had thought, a comic book character like Superman but that he was real, and that he loved him, and that he had even died so that he could become God’s child, Al accepted that gift and entered into a relationship that became the most precious thing in his life—and now in his death.

After high school Al attended Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, where he earned a BA and a BE in engineering. There he was blessed with lifelong friendships, and his relationship with God, which had become more and more important in high school, deepened still further.

Beginning in 1976 Al pastored the congregational church in West Fairlee, Vermont for three years. During that time he also helped oversee the Dartmouth Area Christian Fellowship, raised sheep, worked with a local carpenter, and coached basketball.

In 1978 Al married Elizabeth Wendell Groves (“Libbie”) of Springfield, Vermont. They have four children: Alasdair, Rebeckah, Eowyn and Alden, and one daughter-in-law Lauren. Libbie and the children were Al’s greatest joys.

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1979 saw Al and Libbie move to the Philadelphia area to attend Westminster Theological Seminary, where Al earned a Master of Arts in Religion and a Master of Theology in 1981 and 1982, respectively. Since then Al has worked at Westminster in various capacities: teaching assistant, Assistant Professor, Director of Admissions, Dean of Students, Associate Professor, Full Professor of Old Testament, and most recently Academic Dean and Vice President for Academic Affairs. During his years at Westminster Al also founded the Westminster Hebrew Institute—a center for the study of Biblical Hebrew linguistics through computing, which was recently renamed the J. Alan Groves Center for Advanced Biblical Research in his honor. Al’s life work focused on the mobile application of computing and related technology to the study and teaching of the Hebrew Bible and language, a field in which he is widely acknowledged as one of the earliest visionaries and most influential scholars. He was working to finish a PhD at the Free University in Amsterdam at the time of his death.

In the classroom, as in the rest of life, Professor Groves’ teaching was enriched not only by his careful and thorough research and familiarity with the details of his field, but also by his enthusiasm and love for the Scriptures—in Hebrew and English, his passion for the glory of the God he loved, his personal devotion to God, which was evident in every aspect of his life, his emphasis on the grace of God and his reminder that God’s followers are called to live out of that grace. Al taught as much by his life as by his lectures.

Al was interested in everything, from books and cell phone movies to biking and from linguistic theory to woodworking. It seemed that he could converse knowledgeably on almost any subject, and he enjoyed doing so, because he was interested in both the topic and the person he was talking to.

Al loved his family. He loved his friends, his church, his colleagues, his students. However harried he was at any given moment and however pressed his schedule, he always had time for people. His genuine interest in individuals and his sensitivity to and pastoral concern for them showed through in all of his interactions. Right up to the last days of his consciousness he consistently inquired about people: how they were doing and how he could pray for them. He excelled at the Biblical injunction to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” Al was at any and every moment the exemplary encourager.

Al’s unflagging encouragement, humble, godly wisdom and gentle guidance will be sorely missed by his colleagues, his students, his church, and most of all his family. He pointed all of us again and again back to the grace of God, the power of the gospel to transform hearts and lives, and Jesus’ command to love and to lay down our lives for one another. He himself was committed to that radical, Christ-like love, and he encouraged all of us to the same calling.

Al often said that our lives are the blackboard on which God’s grace is written. Certainly it was easy to see God’s grace in his life.

Al left this world to join his savior at home on February 5, 2007. He is survived by his wife, children, parents, siblings, numerous nieces and nephews, and two great-nieces. He will be buried at a private service.

A memorial service for Al will be held on Saturday, February 10 at 2:00, at New Covenant Church at 7500 Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy.

Gifts in memory of Al may be made to Westminster Theological Seminary, with “Needy Student Fund” indicated on the memo line. Box 27009 Philadelphia, PA 19118.

16 Comments »

  1. Becky Wilson said,

    February 8, 2007 at 8:35 am

    Al not only did not waste his cancer, he did not waste his life.

  2. Donna Carter said,

    February 8, 2007 at 9:41 am

    Dear Libbie
    I think of you often and miss you all. My prayers go with you at this extreme time of grief. Al was a wonderful man. What more can one say. I will miss him greatly. Love You Donna

  3. Barbara G. Peters said,

    February 8, 2007 at 11:22 am

    Libby, it was a joy to meet you and Al about 20 yrs. ago when Alisdair was a first grader. During these last months as I followed Al’s Blog I felt I knew you both so much better as I prayed for you and your family. As I have read his obituary I now know more about this precious saint and faithful servant who is rejoicing in the presence of the Savior he loved and served. Your testimonies have been a rich blessing to my soul. Thank you.

  4. David Filson said,

    February 8, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Dear Libby, As I read your moving tribute to your husband, I am reminded of the line from that great old hymn, “My Jesus, I Love Thee,” I think it is the last verse: “I’ll love thee in life, I will love thee in death.” All certainly loved Jesus in both. And now, Al loves Jesus for all eternity, seeing him immediately with the sight of his soul. There is a biblical continuum in life. The modes change, from life on this earth, to being in the immediate presence of Christ the Savior, to that great resurrection day of 1Co 15. I am telling you nothing you do not already know. But, I would leave you with a thought from an old southern Presbyterian theologian, James Henley Thornwell, who said that “the Holy Spirit guards the bodies of believers in their graves, until the grand day of resurrection.” I will always remember Al’s kindness in speaking with me, e-mailing back and forth about football. Libby, your posts and testimony through all this have nourished my soul. – David from Nashville

  5. Carl Howell said,

    February 8, 2007 at 3:17 pm

    I remember his gracious smile and humility–even (or should I say especially) as a student. He was so bright in Hebrew and I was so dim!! His memory is sweet to me. Thankful that our paths crossed for a short while there at Westminster (I graduated in ’82). May the Lord Himself strengthen and comfort you all. Jesu is indeed our Hope (1 Tim. 1:1).
    Your Brother in Christ,
    Carl, from Cedar Bluff, VA

  6. Jerry Shepherd said,

    February 8, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    Libbie,

    I don’t know if you will remember me; I was Al’s teaching assistant in Hebrew for five or six years in the mid to late 80s, and was also one of the original assistants on the Hebrew computer project, along with John Marcott, Jonathan Inman, and others. After leaving Westminster in ’93, I became professor of Old Testament at Taylor Seminary in Edmonton, where I have now been for nearly fourteen years.

    Al had a great impact on both my personal and professional life. In my first year at Westminster, I not only had Al for Hebrew, but also attended his prayer group. It was a joy to hear him pray, both in the class and in the small prayer group: he truly delighted in praising God. He was Dean of Students that year, and I remember him making an appointment with me (and of course all the other first-year students) to come to his office to share any problems or concerns I had and for him to pray with me.

    He was an excellent Hebrew teacher, and for years now I have been teaching Hebrew here at Taylor, using his notes (with permission!), and basically adopting his approach and methods in teaching Hebrew, complete with all his puns and jokes! He was my instructor for a directed study in Hebrew, in which it was my pleasure to read several chapters of Isaiah with him, not just for grammatical knowledge, but also theologically and devotionally. And that course has had an impact on my own teaching of the book. He also taught a course called Old Testament Motifs, which has in turn become the basis for a course I teach here at Taylor.

    I hadn’t seen Al since I left Westminster, and unfortunately, on a couple of trips back to visit the campus, when I stopped in to see him, he was away both times. I tried to keep in email contact with him, the most recent being a little over a year ago, when we discussed an article that he had written on Isaiah 53 as well as one that I was doing. He was very helpful in giving me input. And several times over the years I expressed to him in an email my deep appreciation for the impact he had on my life and for the personal interest he took in me.

    When I remember Al, all kinds of snapshots come to mind: a video of him doing a song and dance routine with Tremper Longman and Ray Dillard, “tiqtol through the tulips”; telling a student who didn’t do very well in Hebrew that he didn’t think any less of him because of it, but encouraging him in his other gifts and talents that he would be able to use for the kingdom; dropping something he was busily working on to stop and pray with a student who had come to him for advice; preaching a sermon in chapel on Ehud the left-handed judge on a dare from students that he wouldn’t be able to do a biblical-theological sermon from that passage; introducing some of us to the novels of Umberto Eco, the songs of John McCutcheon, the glories of the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird, and the biblical symbolism of movies like Apocalypse Now (we watched that in your home—you and Al were such gracious hosts!).

    Al was indeed a beautiful person and a tremendously godly man, and I know you will miss him dearly. May the Lord be your comfort as you both grieve and rejoice at the same time. And may you rejoice, not only because Al is now with the Savior he loved so much, but also because of the deep impact that Al has made on so many students who now serve all over the world, the tremendous part he played in the preparation of so many “ministers of the new covenant,” and in the fact that “he being dead, yet speaketh.”

    Blessings,

    Jerry Shepherd

  7. Irene Inman said,

    February 8, 2007 at 9:01 pm

    Dear Libbie,
    Having worked as a nurse for 36 years, most of which has been with the elderly, I have seen many people pass from this world to the next. Some deaths are sweet and other just horrid. In your blog you and Al have modeled for us a beautiful example of how to die. It is something that most of the world does not do well. Thank you so much for being willing to share this time in your lives and teach us a better way. I have been deeply touched by your faith and courage. Kerry and I will continue to pray for you and your family.

  8. sheila greco said,

    February 9, 2007 at 7:07 am

    Dear Libbie and children:

    We met briefly long ago but have joined you in prayers these last few years as mutual friends — the Goods — kept us updated. Al has certainly borne fruit that remains and all of you are beautiful living epistles of God. Praying peace, healing, refreshing and enough space and time with each other for God to work all of it to completion.

    Peace
    Sheila Chase Greco

  9. Mike Sharrett said,

    February 9, 2007 at 9:51 am

    Dear Libbie,
    I am deeply edified by all these accounts of God’s grace in Al’s life. I especially remember his prayers at the start of Hebrew class, and that he was the most tream-oriented player I ever knew in basketball. I hope I still have the video you made of us playing hoops in 1988, at the end of my seminary career.
    You will be in my prayers.
    Mike Sharrett

  10. Dan McCartney said,

    February 9, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    Many were Al’s accomplishments, and I doubt not he is now laying his honors at the feet of Jesus. Though he was a great man, a great scholar, and a great teacher, it was his also being a humble friend who loved to serve that most pointed me to the Savior.
    I believe I’ve learned better how to live, and how to die, by having watched Al wend his way home.

    Dan McCartney

  11. Lanell Mogab said,

    February 10, 2007 at 9:38 am

    Dear loved ones,

    Unfortunately, I did not learn of Al’s struggle with cancer early enough to contact him. As I read through the blog now, I am astounded by the courage and grace with which you all faced his death.

    A few years ago, you gave me a great blessing in visiting me in Iowa. Al and I are second cousins, and we discussed the inadequacy we both felt in living up to the Christian examples we had from our family members from previous generations: gentle, loving, charitable, unpretentious, joyful people . It is evident that Al has joined those family members who have set examples for all of us, not only in the way he lived but also in the way he died. I know that there is great joy in Heaven as he joins those who went before. I also share the deep sorrow for those of us who assumed we would have many more years of visits and conversations with Al here on earth.

    Thank you so much for posting the blog to serve as a guide for all Christians in facing death. May the memories of Al’s life and the prayers of the many who loved him provide strength and comfort as you celebrate and mourn his passing to life’s next phase.

    Love and peace,
    Lanell Mogab

  12. Stephen Dutton said,

    February 10, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    Hi Libbie,

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve been reading this blog today. It was nice to catch up. It has been so many years. I’m at a loss for words right now. In the weeks and months ahead you will find strength in your family and friends, but most in the Hope that Jesus Christ brings to us all.

    “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.” I like that sermon out of 1 Corinthians 15 (KJV)

    See ya later,
    Stephen Dutton

  13. Tanya Moore said,

    February 10, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    Mrs. Groves,

    I don’t know you, but I had the privilege of meeting your husband at our daughter-in-law’s graduation last May. I have kept up with his condition through our kids and have prayed for you and your family. I pray for you today as you have the memorial service.

    The thought that came to my as I read of your husband’s home-going is “Safe in the arms of Jesus, safe on His gentle breast.”

    Thank you for sharing your journey with those who know you and those of who don’t, but who know your Savior.

    Tanya Moore

  14. HalScanlin said,

    February 12, 2007 at 9:23 am

    The inspiring Memorial Service brought back many happy memories of Al’s graciousness as we worked together on the BHQ project. Whenever I would go to Westminster to se Al on BHQ business, it was less of a business meeting and more of a time of inspiration. A number of members of the Editorial Committee contacted me to express their sympathy and appreciation for all the Al did to make the BHQ project a success.

    In going through my file of BHQ pictures I cam across one taken in Bad Urach, Germany. It pictures a number of the Committee members, including Al, Soetjianto, and me.

    I wasn’t able to post the photo here, but if anyone wants a copy, please write to me at harold.scanlin@verizon.net.

    Ray Dillard also attended a portion of the meeting to present his work on the book of Esther. Ray died several months later.

    Hal Scanlin

  15. Jim Steinwedell said,

    February 10, 2008 at 12:55 am

    Ms Groves- Libbie- I remember you and Al with great respect and loving kindness. May God continue to bless you and keep you in his grip.

  16. Bob Casey said,

    January 21, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    I was one of Al’s college friends. We met in a French class. We lost contact after 1974, but no matter – the whole picture in this obituary is recognizable. And Al would have greeted me the same as always, if we’d encountered each other more recently. I see Al as a very decent person.

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