Rev. Dr. Marilyn Adams

Obituary of Rev. Dr. Marilyn Adams

The Rev. Dr. Marilyn McCord Adams died peacefully at her home in Princeton, New Jersey, on March 22, 2017. She is known internationally in academic circles for her contributions to the study of philosophy and theology, and in the Anglican Communion for her forceful advocacy of full recognition of the value of loving same-sex relationships. Born October 12, 1943, in Oak Park, Illinois, to William Clark McCord and Wilmah Brown McCord, she spent most of her childhood in small towns in east central Illinois, and attended the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, graduating as valedictorian of her class in early 1964, with a major in philosophy. Continuing her study of philosophy at the graduate level, she received her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1967.

At Cornell she met and married Robert Merrihew Adams, a fellow doctoral student in philosophy (known then and now as “Bob” to colleagues, graduate students, and other friends). This began a partnership spanning half a century in which their professional as well as personal lives were closely intertwined. They held faculty positions in the same universities, first in the philosophy department of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and then for twenty-one years in the UCLA philosophy department. It was during her time in Los Angeles that Marilyn was ordained to the Episcopal priesthood, having followed a sense of calling through an intense introduction to ministry in Hollywood during the AIDS crisis, and having acquired two Th.M. degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary.

In 1993 they moved east to Yale, where Marilyn was the Horace Tracy Pitkin Professor of Historical Theology in the divinity school, while Bob was in the philosophy department (and chaired it for eight years). In 2004 they moved to Oxford, England. He retired, and she became Regius Professor Divinity, and a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral. Historically, she was the first woman, and the first American, to hold that professorship. Both of them participated in the intellectual life of Oxford University, and felt their lives enriched by English traditions of Christian worship.

Returning to the United States in 2009, they settled in Chapel Hill, NC, for nearly four years, teaching in the UNC philosophy department. In 2013 they moved to Princeton, and taught in a graduate center for philosophy of religion at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, and at Princeton Theological Seminary.

As a scholar and interpreter of medieval philosophy and theology Marilyn McCord Adams is known especially for her definitive two-volume study of the work of William Ockham. She has also made a mark in contemporary philosophy of religion, particularly with two books presenting her distinctive approach to the theological problem of evil. In Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God and Christ and Horrors she does not try to answer the question, ‘Why did God permit all the evils that we know about?’ Rather she asks, ‘What can God do to make our existence a great good to us, without trivializing the horrendous evils that we know about?’ As an Episcopal priest, most recently assisting at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton, New Jersey, she will be remembered for generous spiritual companionship and forceful sermons, delivered always without notes, relating the Bible to questions of present-day life in ways both critical and hopeful.

She is survived by her husband of fifty years, and by a large and loyal extended family, including her brother and sister-in-law, William and Carolyn McCord of Peoria, Illinois, her nephew James Fearon, of Stanford, California, and her niece Mary Fearon Jack, of Hudson, Ohio, and many of her former students, with their families. There will be a family interment ceremony at the cemetery in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Public memorial services will take place in Trinity Cathedral in Trenton, New Jersey, at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday April 8, and in Los Angeles, California on the first Saturday in May. In lieu of flowers, contributions in memory of Marilyn may be made to a charity of the donor’s choice.