category: Faculty Emeriti - In Memory Of

Gerald Keown

Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies

Gerald Keown

Gerald L. Keown (1946-2021) was the son of Harlice Edmond Keown and Mildred Joiner Keown, formerly of Anniston, Ala. The couple welcomed Gerald in 1946 following the end of World War II, and his sister was born three years later. Keown’s mother worked as a secretary and in various administration roles. His father was an alumnus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, Ky.) and a minister for 42 years, serving numerous churches in Alabama.

Upon graduating high school, Keown attended the University of Alabama majoring in chemistry with intentions of applying to medical school. He graduated in 1968 during the midst of the Vietnam War and joined the U.S. Navy as a hospital surgical technician. Among his fondest memories from his time in the service was working on the labor and delivery unit where he delivered a total of 80 babies.

A group of rowdy children sparked Keown’s move to ministry. While stationed in Barstow, Calif., Keown volunteered to teach the lesson at his church’s Vacation Bible School. “I discovered that I had the ability to keep people’s attention,” Keown recalled with laughter at the thought of the kids sitting still and listening to his stories. This seemingly small event set Keown on the path of his career in teaching and ministry.

Keown met his future wife, Sharon Diane Alverson, through his sister at Judson College in Alabama. After both were attendants in his sister’s wedding, they began to correspond. Letters were mailed across the country for three years while Keown was stationed in California. In 1972, after four years of military service, Keown returned to Alabama, drove to Sharon’s home in Huntsville, and proposed. Then he packed his bags for Louisville to study at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. That December, Keown married Sharon, and she joined him in Louisville while he finished his studies.

Keown planned to obtain a Master of Divinity and become a teaching pastor like his father. While pursuing his degree, a professor and mentor noticed his adeptness in the Hebrew language and encouraged him to pursue a doctorate. Keown was ordained as a minister by St. Matthews Baptist Church, Louisville, in August 1975 and earned the Doctor of Philosophy in Old Testament Studies in 1979.

After graduating, Keown worked three years as “The Chair of the Bible” at the University of Missouri, Columbia. In 1982, Southern Seminary contacted Keown concerning an Old Testament faculty position. The Keowns returned to Kentucky, where he taught at Southern Seminary for 14 years and held the position of associate dean for the last five. 

A former colleague who was teaching at GWU, Dr. Mary Alice Seals, reached out to Keown about an open position at Gardner-Webb, and he applied. In 1996, Keown came to GWU as a full professor of Old Testament Interpretation in the M. Christopher White School of Divinity.

In 2006, Keown became the associate dean of the School of Divinity. From day one, his motto was “People come before the program.” He lived this statement and functioned as associate dean until his retirement in 2019. Keown also served nine years as the Bob D. Shepherd Chair of Biblical Studies. However, teaching was Keown’s true passion. Throughout his 23 years at GWU, he insisted on teaching classes in addition to administrative roles. 

Keown spent most of his career digging deeper into the Old Testament. He acknowledges that the Israel from scripture faced different issues than modern culture. However, he firmly believes that the Old Testament provides the necessary principles and questions to apply to current challenges.

“Gardner-Webb has been a really good place for me,” recounted Keown. “The freedom in the classroom is just exceptional. The support of the administration has always been exemplary.” Students would enter his classes with little or no knowledge of the Old Testament and leave with the same excitement Keown manifested. “This is exactly what I was intended to do,” he humbly reflected. “That’s why I stayed at it until age 73.”

Outside the realm of Gardner-Webb, Dr. Keown co-authored a volume of Word Biblical Commentary on Jeremiah chapters 26 through 52. He wrote multiple journal articles and contributed to several books. He is an active member of the Society of Biblical Literature, National Association of Professors of Hebrew and National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion. Keown taught abroad in Moscow, Singapore and Cuba and presented across the United States. He gladly served as an interim pastor for churches across Kentucky and the Carolinas.

Keown embraced many opportunities during retirement. He and his wife were involved in their church, Fernwood Baptist, Spartanburg, S.C. Keown taught an adult Sunday School class, served as a deacon, and sang in the choir.

Source: Personal Interview—Jackie Bridges

Written by GWU 2020 alumna Claire Coile

Updated September 2022

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