A Tribute to Dr. John Henderson Cartwright

in Uncategorized
May 9th, 2011

Simple Recollections, Long Memories with Annunciations and Benedictions

A Tribute to Dr. John Henderson Cartwright

Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders—William Faulkner

The simple recollection is this: I met Dr. Cartwright in 1976 at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois where I was a matriculating senior and director of Minority Student Affairs.  In the late seventies, Trinity was a white evangelical school with very few African American role models on faculty and staff.  Imagine the small African American student community’s delight when Dr. John Henderson Cartwright came to campus to deliver a lecture on Martin Luther King, Jr.  His lionesque countenance (panthera leo) with a huge peppered afro seated like a crown atop a blazing crimson academic gown was quite the sight!  His probing intellect and commanding presence so impressed me that I requested a meeting with him at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary where he served as Professor of Christian Ethics.  During this period I was struggling with a decision to choose law or theology for my graduate work.  In his own inimitable style, he suggested that I choose one or the other and get on with it.  I did. I chose Garrett for my Masters of Divinity; and he left.  So, upon graduation from Garrett, I followed him to Boston University where he had recently assumed the Martin Luther King, Jr. Chair in Social Ethics. My dissertation on “The Concept of Community in the Thought of Howard Thurman and Martin King, Jr.” bears his imprimatur and mentorship.

I have often wondered where my life and career would have headed had I not met John Henderson Cartwright.  James Hillman writes: “Sooner or later something seems to call us onto a particular path.  . . . a signal moment . . . an urge out of nowhere, a fascination, a peculiar turn of events struck like an annunciation:  This is what I must do, this is what I’ve got to have.  This is who I am.”   Thank you, Dr. Cartwright.

The long memories that remain are of a different sort than simple recollections.  My time at Boston University was filled with a busy schedule of balancing research and writing with pastoral work—a burdensome combination for all who have attempted this ill-advised pursuit.  Dr. Cartwright never allowed me to compromise my intellectual integrity with the many, seemingly never-ending demands of the pastoral office.  The marked-up exams on early Greek philosophical and ethical perspectives that are still in my possession remind me of his exacting (I felt, then, totalitarian) requirements for excellence. Yet over the eight years at Boston University, he never failed to give time, energy and thought to my many questions and challenges.

Beyond the moments of rigorous intellectual labor that he absolutely demanded of all his students, were the times when this kind and generous human being extended hospitality to me and my young family.  I shall never forget an evening at the home of the Cartwrights, how after dinner, he stole away with our three-year old son, Clinton, and was completely absorbed at play and laughter, revealing a grace that I was privileged to witness.  Sharon and I are forever grateful to “Mike” (Mrs. Cartwright) and to John for the experiences of grace, play and laughter that continue to shape our way and sustain us in the work to which we have been called.  Benedictus qui est venit in nomine Domine.

Walter Earl Fluker

Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of Ethical Leadership

Boston University School of Theology

John Cartwright’s funeral will take place at 10 am on June 4 at:

Sea Island Presbyterian Church
81 Lady’s Island Drive
Beaufort, SC 29907

All sympathies should be mailed to:

The family of John Cartwright
1729 Long Field Drive
Dataw, SC 29920