Friends, Colleagues Give Retired Professor a Big Send-Off
Winston-Salem State University bid a fond farewell last week to Rev. Dr. Cedric Rodney, who has retired after a stellar 40-year career.
Rodney, the school’s James A. Gray Distinguished Professor of Religion and Ethics, was the coordinator of the James A. Gray Lecture series, which brings speakers from around the country to campus to address the moral issues of the day. Though he retired in August, a well-attended event honoring him was held last Friday at Digg’s Gallery.
“He’s touched so many lives on this campus and so many lives in this community with his warmth, with his sense of humor, with his compassion and with his wisdom,” said Chancellor Donald Reaves.
Recalling how welcoming he was to her when she first arrived at WSSU four years ago, Provost Brenda Allen praised Rodney for being an informal goodwill ambassador for WSSU.
“Rev. Rodney has been like my one man cheering squad,” she said.
Elva Jones, a WSSU computer science professor, was taught by Rodney. She said he could make the Bible come to life.
“I’ll never forget as a sophomore, I walked into his religion class and the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘This man is too cool to be a professor of religion,’” said Jones. “He just walked with an air around him.”
She said he wasn’t just a professor, he was also a friend who always uplifted her and gave the same attention to students that he gave the many world-famous leaders he has met with over the years.
Rodney said working at WSSU was his dream job.
“I always wanted to be on campus. I always wanted to be a chaplain,” said Rodney, who holds a doctorate from Pennsylvania’s Moravian Theological Seminary.
A native of the South American city of Georgetown, Guyana, Rodney said he was inspired by the ministers in his family to become a preacher. After earning his undergraduate and master’s degrees from Malone College and John Carroll University, both in Ohio, respectively, Rodney came to Winston-Salem in 1968 to lead St. Philips Moravian Church. He served as pastor until 1976. He returned to lead the church from 1984-2003.
St. Philips traces its beginnings back to a slavery-era log church built in Old Salem in 1823. Rodney became a leader in the effort to restore the log church and the brick one that was built adjacent to the original church in 1861 and to reclaim the African-American graveyard near the church buildings. Now, not only has the site been restored, but it’s now a historical attraction at Old Salem Museum and Gardens. Rodney said he was proud to be a part of that.
“That is why I was born,” said Rodney.
In 1969, at the behest of then-Chancellor Kenneth R. Williams, he became WSSU’s campus chaplain. He would teach and minister in that position until 1990, when he “retired” briefly. He returned to campus in 1992 as the first James A. Gray professor. That same year, he began the Gray lecture series, which has attracted such nationally-known speakers as attorney Johnnie Cochran, former National NAACP President Ben Chavis Jr. and Rev. Rafael Warnock, pastor of historic Ebenzer Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Dr. Shirley Manigault, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said she and her students have attended many of the Gray lectures, which she called hope-inspiring and thought-provoking. She said Rodney helped to contribute to both a local and national dialog about religion.
“In a real, real sense, he’s helped to build the spiritual, ethical and moral consciousness of this campus,” said Manigault. “It’s hard to calculate the impact he’s had on the spiritual life on this campus.”
Rodney is married to Dr. Mae Lipscomb Rodney, WSSU’s director of Library Services, and has three children, two of whom are WSSU alumni.