ESR Mourns the Loss of Tom Mullen

Tom Mullen, former dean of ESR, well-known Richmond author, college professor and recorded minister in the Society of Friends, died Friday, June 19th, at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. He was taken to the hospital after reportedly suffering what was believed to be a stroke earlier Friday.

Mullen founded the Ministry of Writing program at ESR, which encourages students to minister through the written word. He wrote more than a dozen books, and had a weekly column in the Palladium-Item until the past couple of years. He taught writing at Earlham College for 32 years and was dean of Earlham School of Religion when he retired in the late 1990s.

Tom Mullen teaching a workshop at ESR

"Tom has been one of the major figures in Quaker writing for at least 35 years," said Joshua Brown, pastor of West Richmond Friends Meeting in Richmond. Brown said Mullen was a tremendously successful fundraiser during his tenure at ESR, helping pay for a new building and boost its endowment.

"Tom was a wise and wonderful mentor to many generations of ESR students, prospective writers and published writers, Quaker and other pastors, and Indiana Yearly Meeting candidates for recording in ministry," said ESR Professor Stephanie Crumley-Effinger. "His amazing sense of humor helped people open up to the lessons on faith and life that Tom offered through written and spoken words, formal communications and informal conversation. He related easily and well to both children and adults, and made it clear that to him we were very important and well worth his attention. As a professional person, father and husband, Meeting member and friend, Tom generously shared his love of God and his love of life. He had an incredible capacity for love, and for bringing out the best in people.  We will miss him terribly much"

In October 2002, Mullen received the Yale Divinity School's Distinguished Alumni Award. Mullen had received a master of divinity degree from Yale Divinity in 1959 and earned a bachelor's degree from Earlham College. "He trained and inspired generations of Quaker pastors, speakers and leaders," Brown said. "He was very gifted in humor -- he was always able to make a serious point using humor or a joke. He was always engaging and had audiences eating out of the palm of his hand. He could make all the jokes you've heard many times before seem fresh while making a serious point with them."

Many of his own books were volumes of humor-based religion, Where 2 or 3 Are Gathered ... Someone Spills the Milk and Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences. His book A Very Good Marriage portrays his 41 years of marriage to his first wife, Nancy Kortepeter Mullen, who died in 1998. He described their first meeting, courtship, marriage, their humor, raising four children, chronic health concerns, her unexpected death and the grieving process. "Some very good people get married with the best intentions and sometimes it doesn't work," Mullen told the Palladium-Item when the book was released in 2001. "I'm hopeful that people don't give up on marriage. When it works, it's a gift from God because you can't always have it work out the way you want."

He married Nancy Faus in 2002, professor emerita of Bethany Theological Seminary, and the couple have traveled as well as served as interim pastors and offered training at churches around the country.

"We all have people in our lives whose loving attention was transformative," said Phil Gulley, former student and friend. "The time and thought Tom invested in my writing changed my life. I was always jealous of his children for having such a great dad."

In retirement, Mullen also conducted writing seminars and gave motivational and inspirational talks for civic and religious organizations. Brown said Mullen in recent years also helped raise money to upgrade Richmond Friends School and served on its board. "He was someone who could talk with people from any walk of life or economic level and he could make people feel honored to contribute to the many causes he supported," Brown said, noting Mullen's interest in many social issues. "...You always knew how he felt about things. He could make a strong point without offending people."

"The light of Christ burned brightly and laughed freely in the heart and life of Tom Mullen and will continue to glow through all those to whom he was a F/friend," stated current ESR student Al Dodson. "I count myself blessed to be in that number."

ESR student Julia Pantoga also has fond memories of Tom, who served as her theological reflection supervisor this past year. She stated, "Tom was a great encourager for me. He is always going to be a big part of what I remember when I think back on my days in Richmond."

A memorial service was held Saturday, June 27th, at 2:00 p.m. in Richmond at West Richmond Friends. Josh Brown and Phil Gulley delivered eulogies.

If you would like to make a memorial gift, the family suggests the Thomas Mullen Writing Program at Earlham School of Religion, 218 College Avenue, Richmond, IN 47374, or Richmond Friends School, 607 West Main Street, Richmond, IN 47374.

—Mandy Ford, Director of External Relations