Liberia: Dr. John Harry Gay, former Cuttington Professor, Is Dead 1928-2022

John Gay at Cuttington late 1950s



Dr. John H. Gay, longtime professor of History, Mathematics, Political Science and Philosophy at Cuttington College and Divinity School (now Cuttington University), has died.

This sad event occurred on June 13, 2022, at his home in Athens, Georgia, USA, from congestive heart failure.  He was 93.

John Harry Gay was born on December 2, 1928 in the American State of Illinois. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Cornell University and a Bachelor of Divinity (current equivalent of the Master of Divinity) degree from Princeton University. He later took a PhD in Philosophy from Columbia University. 

He was married to the Rev. Dr. Judith Shumway Gay.  This marriage, which endured for 67 years, was blessed with three children: a daughter, Lisa, and two sons, John and Peter Gay.

The Gays were long time professors, he of History, Mathematics, Philosophy and Political Science, and she of English.  Shortly after he completed his Doctor of Philosophy degree he and his young wife Judy commenced their teaching at   Cuttington College and Divinity School (now Cuttington University) in Suacoco, Liberia.  At Cuttington, where they taught for many years — he History, Mathematics, Philosophy, Political Science and she, English.  Through their teaching at Cuttington, John and Judy Gay impacted scores of students of Liberia and other parts of Africa, including those from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and South West Africa (now Namibia).    Many went on to acquire Master’s and Doctorate degrees at some of America’s leading universities as well as universities in other parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia.

Several of their Cuttington students became authors of many books. Among these authors were historian Dr. D. Elwood Dunn; novelist, textbook writer, and teacher Ruth Lymas Reeves; short story author and novelist Wilton Sankawulo; and Liberian journalist and publisher Kenneth Y. Best.  All of them were members of the classes of 1963 and 1964.

Dr. John Gay’s life career spanned from teaching at Cuttington College in Liberia, to working in rural development and social justice in Lesotho, to an active retirement in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and involvement there with St. James Episcopal Church, while raising four children.

John Gay was an expert on the Westernization of traditional societies. A professor and scholar, Gay often wrote about the civil war in Liberia and the clash between Westernization and traditional culture in his novels, articles, and non-fiction works. His works include:

  1. Long Day's Anger
  2. Red Dust on the Green Leaves
  3. The Brightening Shadow
  4. Africa: A Dream Deferred
  5. Liberia's Choices and Regional Stability
  6. Intelligence in Action: A Study of Agriculture in Rural Liberia
  7. The New Mathematics and an Old Culture: A Study of Learning among the Kpelle of Liberia

Dr. Gay served as an Episcopal missionary with his wife, the Rev. Dr. Judith Gay, in Liberia from 1958-1974.  Dr. Gay and his wife continued their missionary work in Lesotho until he took an early retirement in 2001.  In Lesotho, he worked with the Sechaba Consultants on social and economic analyses, as well as various agricultural projects.

Dr. Gay began his missionary work in Africa at Cuttington College and Divinity School (now Cuttington University) located in Suacoco, Bong County, Liberia, serving periodically from 1958-1965, 1966-1968, and 1970-1973. For those years he was Chairperson of the Social Science division and also Dean of Instruction from 1958-1960. Along with teaching, Gay also supervised student research projects, worked within the community, and conducted his own research.  

The immensely talented Dr. John Gay was not only an intellectual and academic, but also a musician and dramatist, leading for many years the Cuttington Choir and many Cuttington operas, including Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.  

During a few of his years away from Cuttington, Dr. Gay had fellowships at Stanford University (1965–1966), Cambridge University, (1975–1976), and again in 1986.  He took that time to study how new ideas in theology and social and economic development relate, as well as write up his research on Liberia.  

Dr. Gay later taught Sociology and African Studies at the National University of Lesotho. For two of those years, Gay taught as a Fulbright Lecturer. He also voluntarily taught at the Anglican theological seminaries in Lesotho and South Africa.

After retirement, Dr. Gay became involved with the Episcopal Divinity School and Boston University, organizing seminar tours in Africa and administering contextual theology consultations at the Episcopal Divinity School.

Dr. John Gay continued his support in current research done at Sechaba Consultants in Cambridge and in several visits completed from 2002–2005 to Lesotho, South Africa, and Namibia. He also served on the Advisory Committee of the International Institute for Justice and Development (IIJD).

Predeceasing John were his daughter Lisa, who died when her parents were still teaching at Cuttington, his wife Judith, and their  eldest son Peter.

Dr. John Gay is survived by his sons Stephen and David, his son Peter’s spouse Laurence Roberts, Stephen’s wife Mrs. Kelly Gay, Stephen and Kelly’s children Rowan and Dylan, Rowan’s wife Caitlyn, Rowan and Caitlyn’s children Briar Rose and Huckleberry, David’s wife Juliette, and David and Juliette’s children Isaac, Gavin and Zeph. 

A funeral service will take place at a date still to be determined.

David Gay can be reached by email at or by mail at 160 Milledge Terrace, Athens, GA, USA.  

This obituary was prepared by two of the Gays’ Cuttington students, Liberian historian and author Dr. D. Elwood Dunn, and journalist, author, and Daily Observer newspaper publisher Kenneth Y. Best.