Max Polley: A Passion for Things We Should All Care About

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I attended today’s memorial service for Professor Emeritus of Religion Max Eugene Polley.

True to form, Max had made sure the scripture cited was clearly labeled Hebrew or Greek, that the theology was solid, that the resurrection was proclaimed. He did this through his son Vance Polley ’79, a Presbyterian minister.

Vance Polley made clear that his “words of remembrance” were just that, and not a formal homily. Homilies, his dad Max felt strongly, should adhere to strict guidelines of scriptural context and theological purity, as noted above. Vance, in his turn, felt strongly that he needed a little more rhetorical room than that to speak of his dad’s passion for Davidson, for the Presbyterian Church, for the Davidson Community Players, for his family and his friends assembled.

Max Eugene Polley, 1928-2014

We learned that the word “theater” means “a place of seeing.” We learned something of Max’s take on the personal side of his own life’s work from the hymnal: “The God of Abraham Praise,” “Be Thou My Vision,” and “For All the Saints.” We learned that Max tested his Humanities lectures at the family dinner table in the 1960s.

For that last, I am personally grateful: Max had gotten pretty darn good at Humes by the time he convinced me, his callow freshman advisee, not to drop it after fall term 1981. “So broad!” I complained. “Just so!” he countered. He told me to stick with it one more term and see, knowing full well that I would be past any realistic point of no return by then. For that auspicious guidance I have remained grateful, as I am grateful for both the breadth and depth he brought to my Davidson education, still ongoing, and for the many learned and good-natured chuckles we shared since 1981.

And I am especially grateful for the phrasing Vance Polley used in remembering his father’s passions for his community, his college, his church, his beloved theatrical stage: “He wasn’t just passionate about things he cared about. He was passionate about lifting up things we should all care about.”

Thank you, Max, for sharing your “place of seeing.”


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