By Dr. John Willis
On Aug. 21, 2020, my dear friend and colleague Tom Olbricht passed away at the age of 90.
I met Tom at national conferences of the Society of Biblical Literature. Since we were basically in the same field, we were often at the same seminar on these meetings. In 1971, Tom was the one responsible for bringing me to Abilene Christian College (now Abilene Christian University). From 1971 to 1986, Tom and I traveled often to regional meetings of the Southwest and national meetings all over the USA and Canada.
Tom and his wife Dorothy were often in our house, and we were often in their house. They have five children: four daughters and one son. They may have been at Highland as members for a while, but basically Tom became an elder at the Minter Lane Church of Christ.
His teaching career extended from Harding, Dubuque, Penn State, ACU and Pepperdine. Everywhere he went strongly influenced many people positively. Tom was clearly a renaissance man whom no one could imitate. Some of Tom’s students were famous for imitating Tom’s hand movements and tone of voice including Mike Casey and Dave Bland [also some of my former students].
Tom founded the Christian Scholars Conference initially at ACU. For the past several years, another former student of mine, David Fleer, oversees this conference every year now stationed at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee.
A few years ago Gayle Crowe asked fifteen of us in this conference to write our history and dreams. This is published as Staying the Course. Tom is the first of us to die.
Carl Holladay at Emory University wrote: “Somehow this towering intellect has resided within the body of an authentic minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ—this child of the Church of Christ, who sings its songs, prays its prayers, presides over its Lord’s Supper, preaches its doctrine, studies its Scriptures, ministers to its sick, comforts its brokenhearted, laments its divisions, and enacts its code of love.”
Tom’s forte is rhetoric. He is responsible for the gathering for important religious and theological meetings throughout the U.S. He significantly contributed to theological education in Churches of Christ and to the broader world of scholarship in rhetorical studies, church history and congregational life. He held academic and administrative roles.
We will all miss Tom and will continue to pray for Dorothy and their children.
Willis is a professor emeritus of Old Testament.