Obituary: Glendora Paul / Persuaded seminarians to make mission trips
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Glendora Paul, a tiny dynamo who dressed in the saris of her native India while urging American Presbyterians to get involved in overseas missions, died Tuesday. She was 82.
A longtime resident of Wilkinsburg until Alzheimer's disease necessitated a nursing home earlier this year, she was a co-founder of the World Mission Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in East Liberty. She spent the last 15 years as such an active volunteer for the school that she had an office there. She earned its highest honor, the John Anderson Award of Merit.
"Glendora flowed through campus in gorgeous, colorful saris with a personality to match and a glow on her face -- short of stature but a giant in the faith who was a living example of the importance of global missions," said the Rev. William Carl, president of the seminary.
She was born to a Christian family in north India. In her youth she knew the great Methodist missionary E. Stanley Jones, who was renowned for spreading Christianity without importing Western trappings. She excelled in school, earning a Fulbright scholarship to the United States to study math. Afterward she taught at an international school in southern India.
In the 1960s, she attended a conference in the United States on global Christianity, where the Rev. Donald G. Miller, then president of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, was impressed with her.
"He saw her as a leader and invited her to respond to that call," said the Rev. Donald Dawson, executive director of the World Mission Initiative.
In 1965 she enrolled at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, sharing a room with Jean Henderson, now a retired pastor in Ben Avon. On Indian Independence Day she loaned saris to the other women in the dormitory "and we wore saris all day," Rev. Henderson said. "She was a delightful, brilliant, compassionate person and she never lost those qualities."
While at seminary she became engaged to her future husband, Prodeep Paul, a professor of horticulture at the Community College of Allegheny County.
Although she earned the qualifying degree, she never sought ordination. Instead she earned a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Pittsburgh, but then went to work for her denomination, the former United Presbyterian Church, as a Pittsburgh-based associate of the national office of Presbyterian Women. She continued for a time after a merger with the Presbyterian Church (USA), traveling a large swath of the eastern United States to promote causes that the Presbyterian Women supported.
"She always felt bad that she traveled so much and Prodeep was left in Pittsburgh all by himself," said her friend, Pat Marion of Brighton. The couple had no children.
"They hoped that when they retired they would do a lot of traveling together."
That was not to be. One morning in early 1995 her husband left the house, but didn't arrive at work. She found him outside in his car, dead of a heart attack.
Instead of withdrawing, she poured her love and energy into her faith. She became a support person for international students, and urged American seminarians to try international missions. She had led pastors on a mission trip to India, and one of them told her, "If only I had had this experience at the beginning of my ministry, it would have been so different."
"That stuck with her, and she believed something had to be done," Rev. Dawson said. "She had a vision and she was tenacious in pursuing it."
Former seminary president C. Samuel Calian gave her an office. She teamed up with Scott Sunquist, then the missions professor, to create the World Mission Initiative. It builds congregational support for international missionary work.
Ms. Paul, who stood less than 5 feet tall, would identify seminarians that she believed needed to experience the church in a different part of the world, and keep after them until they went on a summer mission trip.
She is survived by two sisters, Maggie and Adeline, both in India.
A memorial service will be held Dec. 17 at 3:30 p.m. in the John Knox Room, main administration building at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.
First Published October 26, 2012 12:00 am