category: Faculty Emeriti - In Honor Of

Donna Ellington

Professor Emerita of History

Donna Ellington

Dr. Donna Spivey Ellington was the only child of John Carroll and Doris Clemmer Spivey. Born in 1955 in Charlotte, N.C., she was raised in Gastonia, N.C.  As a high school student, Ellington fell in love with a young man, A. Steven Ellington, and also with the medieval time period. She and Steven married when she was 19, and they attended Appalachian State University (Boone, N.C.), where Ellington pursued her second love.

Ellington began college as an English major, but she realized the classes and professors she truly connected with were found in the History department. History allowed her to combine literature, art and any other interests she wanted to pursue. She narrowed her academic focus to the Church and religious history during the medieval era. “It was so profoundly Christian,” Ellington explained about her love of the 5th to the 15th century. “Everything in the society was structured around the Faith.” Ellington graduated with her degree in history in 1977.

Upon earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Appalachian, Ellington was offered a Medieval Renaissance Fellowship at Duke University to compete her Ph.D.  While pursuing her degree, Ellington received a call from Lansford Jolley (1927-2013), chair of the Department of Social Sciences at Gardner-Webb University, asking if she would be interested in a teaching position. She accepted and, in the fall of 1988, began her 31-year career at Gardner-Webb. She taught three sections of Western Civilization for the History department and Church history courses for the religion department.

She completed her doctoral dissertation in 1991. She was also later awarded a sabbatical to complete the work necessary to make her doctoral dissertation publishable as a book.  “I could be a Christian scholar here,” Ellington said about staying at GWU for her entire career. “I didn’t have to apologize for my faith, and I could bring it into the classroom.” Indeed, her classroom was filled with faith, religion and the Church. Her favorite courses to teach were Medieval Spirituality, a senior seminar in religion and Early and Medieval Christianity.

Ellington is thankful for the community of scholars that she found at Gardner-Webb. “I have had such wonderful people to work with,” she reflected. “It was a really nice environment.”

Ellington enjoyed teaching students who were full of questions and curiosity about the subject that was dear to her heart. She always strived to be a Christian above all. “More than anything else,” she reflected “I like to think of myself as a Christian first, then a scholar.”

She served in numerous service and leadership roles: Chair of the Faculty, head of the inaugural Quality Enhancement Plan committee, Chair of the Department of Social Sciences, and was a member of almost every other faculty committee at Gardner-Webb.

The emerita is committed to lifelong scholarship on the Church. She wrote a number of articles and book reviews for distinguished journals, and, in 2001, she published her book, From Sacred Body to Angelic Soul: Understanding Mary in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Her interest in earlier Western history took her abroad to Northern England, Ireland, France and Italy to research and enjoy the culture.

At Ellington’s retirement celebration in 2019, Dr. David Yelton, professor of history and former Associate Provost of Arts and Sciences, said, “In my view, Dr. Ellington is the epitome of a Christian scholar. Donna is also, in my personal view, a valued colleague and friend.” 

Ellington spends her retirement pursuing her hobbies of playing the medieval harp and reading Church history, theology, and mystery novels. She has written several book reviews and an article for St. Austin Review, a Catholic literary magazine, and will continue to do so. Ellington and her high school sweetheart continue to enjoy travel and attending Latin mass at their beloved church, St. Ann in Charlotte.

Source: Personal Interview — Jackie Bridges

Written by GWU 2020 alumna Claire Coile

October 2020

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