George Stuart Claghorn, 98, of Lansdale, a professor emeritus of philosophy at West Chester University whose academic career spanned more than half a century, died Monday, Feb. 5, of cancer at Abington-Lansdale Hospital.
In 1963, Dr. Claghorn joined the faculty of what was then West Chester State Teachers College. He taught Greek and American philosophy and founded the university’s philosophy department, guiding its development and securing its certification to offer a master’s degree program in philosophy.
Anthropologist Marshall J. Becker, Dr. Claghorn’s academic colleague, called him “a gracious gentleman and scholar.”
“His able leadership led the program at West Chester to become very well-respected throughout the Delaware Valley and beyond,” Becker said. “When my colleague Martin Murphy and I were trying to build a program in anthropology, the competition for students quite often centered on those who also were attracted to George’s faculty.
“Given the heavy teaching emphasis at our state school, scholarly production often took a back seat to our teaching activities, but George maintained his interests at a high level.
“Once he retired, he did not sit back and leave his scholarly pursuits behind. He set the standard for all of us by publishing important works after he left the classroom. All of this was done while raising a wonderful family. He was a role model for scholars everywhere.”
Before his career at West Chester, Dr. Claghorn was one of the leaders of Eastern Baptist College, which in 1952 moved to St. Davids. Two decades later, it was renamed Eastern University.
Dr. Claghorn was among the first to teach at the St. Davids campus, according to a 2015 Eastern school bulletin.
“Dr. Claghorn came to Eastern during a major period of growth and transition,” the bulletin said. “The original faculty and administrative members, who had been with Eastern since its founding in 1925, were retiring, and Dr. Claghorn was the first of the next generation to fill their shoes.”
He “proved to be a capable author, effective teacher, a splendid scholar, and dedicated Christian leader,” it said.
Dr. Claghorn started out as a professor of philosophy in 1951, later became director of American studies, and went on to serve as Eastern’s dean of faculty from 1954 to 1961. He led summer classes for high school teachers and wrote the first history of the college, “Mount Up With Wings.”
Later, although no longer on campus, he was on Eastern’s board of directors from 1969 to 1978. Eastern awarded him an honorary doctor of humane letters in 2004.
“Many of the early alumni from the college loved and respected him for his enthusiasm and dedication to the students, both academically and spiritually,” Eastern said in remarks made during his 90th birthday celebration in 2009.
Dr. Claghorn was the author of numerous articles and four books, including the 1998 Letters and Personal Writings of Jonathan Edwards, which he edited for Yale University Press.
Edwards, who lived from 1703 to 1758, was an American preacher, philosopher, theologian, and the first president of Princeton University. For three decades, Dr. Claghorn scoured America, Britain, and Scotland for letters and documents by and about Edwards. The letters broke new ground by showing Edwards’ human side, as well as his views on slavery and interest in Native Americans, according to the book’s flyleaf.
Born in Philadelphia, Dr. Claghorn grew up in Cape May, N.J., and graduated from Cape May High School in 1937. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a bachelor and a doctor of divinity degree from the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University), and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.
In addition to his academic duties and writings, Dr. Claghorn was pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Trenton and First Baptist Church of Ridley Park. Over the years, he also found time to be interim pastor at scores of other churches in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Dr. Claghorn lived in West Chester for most of his life. Since retiring in 2004, he had resided at a senior community in Lansdale.
Besides his wife of 62 years, Shirley, he is survived by a daughter, Elizabeth Austin, a son, Stuart, and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, at First Baptist Church, 700 N. Broad St., Lansdale. Burial is private.
Memorial donations may be made to the WCU Foundation, for the George S. Claghorn Philosophy Fund, West Chester University, West Chester, Pa. 19383, or Eastern University, 1300 Eagle Rd., St. Davids, Pa. 19087.