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.
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.