Life Story for Dr. Richard D. Nesmith
FRAMINGHAM: Dr. Richard D. Nesmith, former Dean and Professor of Christian Social Ethics at the Boston University School of Theology from 1977 to 1988 and full time professor from 1988 until his retirement in 2001, died Wed. March 1, 2017 at a facility near his home in Framingham.
Dr. Nesmith was an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. Born on a family farm in Belleville, Kansas, he completed his AB studies at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, Nebraska. He prepared for Christian ministry at Garrett Theological Seminary, located on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, IL., earning the MDiv degree in 1953. At Boston University School of Theology he completed the PhD degree with a major in Christian Social Ethics in 1958. He also completed a certificate of ecumenical studies at the Bossey Institute in Switzerland.
Dean Nesmith was professor of sociology and Dean of Students at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, IL (1958-1961) and professor of Christian Social Ethics at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, MO (1962-1968). His teaching often took place in student field visits, as well as in the classroom. In his undergraduate teaching and his teaching at Saint Paul, he helped students engage in grassroots community issues as a part of their education. He spent time in a Montgomery, Alabama city jail for leading northern white students in visits with African-American leadership in the city following the successful bus boycott in that city. He was convicted of " conduct calculated to provoke a breach of the peace." He declined an offer to be dismissed with a fine, and he appealed the case until the verdict was reversed and court costs reimbursed by the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (1963). The Court of Appeals ruled the arrest "illegal as a matter of law."
As the preceding court case illustrates, Dr. Nesmith was a leader in helping ministerial students and church bodies relate to the issues of racial justice, war and peace, and strengthening the role of women in church and society. He was instrumental in the Inner City Parish in Kansas City which linked the primarily African-American churches of Kansas City with the instructional program at St. Paul School of Theology. Later he served (1969-1974) as Director of Planning at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries in New York City. In that role, he helped the national denomination give leadership on issues of social justice in the cities as well as in rural communities.
After service for three years as senior pastor of the Trinity United Methodist Church in Lincoln, NE, Dr, Nesmith was appointed Dean and Professor of Christian Social Ethics at BU School of Theology in 1979. For 13 years Nesmith as Dean gave leadership to a graduate professional school that was affected- along with other educational institutions- by trends and volatile issues in church and society. His term of office witnessed a rapid increase in the number of women attending as students and an increase in the number women and ethnic minority faculty members. From 1993 until his retirement in 2001 he continued his service as a full-time Professor of Christian Social Ethics.
Richard Nesmith and his first wife, Barbara, were married following their studies together at Boston University. Four daughters were born to the marriage. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1980. In 1986, Dr. Nesmith was married to Patricia Nichols Toscano. While Dr. Nesmith continued in his teaching role, he and Patricia worked together from 1989 to 1997 on a United Methodist Television series: " Perspectives: Faith in Our Times." Richard was moderator and Patricia was associate producer on a series that interviewed national figures representing church, society, and politics. It was carried nationally on the Odyssey network. In their life together the Nesmiths were avid followers of the Boston Symphony, the Boston Pops, and the ballet. In retirement they have engaged in travel on all the continents. They have taken advantage of a full range of cultural and artistic opportunities provided in the Boston area and beyond.
Dean Nesmith is survived by his wife, Patricia; by four daughters: Lesli Nesmith Nelson of Cedar Rapids, IA, Lisa Nesmith Curtis of Boulder, CO, Laurel Nesmith of Melbourne, FL and Lana Louise Nesmith of Seattle, WA; and a step-son, Chris Toscano of Framingham. He is survived also by 5 grandchildren: Ethan, Nathan, Joseph, Kenneth and Emily.
Private visiting hours at Boyle Bros. Funeral Home will be held at the family's convenience. All are invited to attend a memorial service scheduled for Wednesday, March 29, 2017 at 2:00 p.m. at the Marsh Chapel at Boston University, 735 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that memorial gifts be directed to the Boston University School of Theology, 745 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA. 02215.