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Obituary: Howard Spaulding Fuller

Husband, father, grandfather, scholar, pastor, author, community organizer, tennis and backpacking devotee

Claremont resident Howard Spaulding Fuller died peacefully on May 15 at Pilgrim Place, his home for 28 years. He was 93.

Howard was born in Boston on September 21, 1928, to Granville Benton and Ruth Hutchinson Fuller, and grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts with his brothers Granville and Peter. He attended Roxbury Latin School in Boston and Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.

In 1951 he graduated from Dartmouth College with a BA in English literature. One week later he married Annette George, the daughter of Ralph Henry and Ruth Hall George, of Hopkinton, New Hampshire. By 1960 they were the parents of four children: Susan, Thomas, Katherine and Sarah (Sally).

In 1954, he graduated from Union Theological Seminary in New York City and was ordained into the ministry of the United Church of Christ. After serving for three years in suburban Rochester, New York as an associate pastor at the Irondequoit Congregational Church, he and his family moved to Buffalo, New York. There he was pastor at Salem Evangelical and Reformed Church from 1957 to 1961.

From 1961 to 1967 he worked as the minister of Metropolitan Ministry while Annette taught social workers at SUNY/Buffalo. They helped raise money to bring Saul Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation to organize in the African American community. Together they created Head Start programs and open occupancy housing groups.

In 1967 the family moved to Berkeley, California so that he might become west coast field secretary for the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries. His job was to try to understand the cultural dimensions of west coast life at the end of the 1960s and their effect on the church. He and his wife experienced those years as a rare opening in American society.

He enjoyed exploring California and taking his family on camping and backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevada. The family spent many summers with their extended family at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. He loved to play tennis and handball at the local YMCA.

In 1973 he received his PhD in sociology of religion from State University of New York at Buffalo. “Who joins and becomes active in the mainstream Protestant church?” was the question he asked in his dissertation. He conducted field research in a suburb of San Francisco while his wife  taught in the department of public health at the University of California, Berkeley.

When he was 45 he was let go from his job, choosing to stay on the west coast rather than move back to New York. “At around the same time I was led on a guided visualization in which the Christ appeared to me, holding me in His presence with great compassion,” Fuller wrote. “I regarded this vision as the occasion of my conversion to Christianity.”

He began to study the use of the imagination in opening awareness at different levels of the subconscious. He studied psychosynthesis, a transpersonal psychology, for three years, and led workshops for Roman Catholic and Protestant clergy all over the nation.

In 1978 he began 10 years of very happy work as interim and then senior pastor in Benicia, California at the Community Congregational Church. He wrote about this experience in his book, The Pastor Who Learned to Dance.

“In 1992 I dreamed I experienced myself falling slowly down through scenes of domestic and national drama, through the middle of the cross, into a space which I could only describe as nothingness or void,” Fuller wrote. “The experience of the fall and arrival was not unpleasant. And in the state of nothingness, I experienced harmony with myself and the universe. For me it was an experience of the kingdom of God.”

In 1994 the couple moved to Pilgrim Place in Claremont. During times of intense change in their lives they were deeply nourished by this community. He played tennis for many years with his friends and enjoyed his men’s and writing groups.

Annette died from complications of lung cancer on August 1, 1997. They had been married almost 46 years. Treasure Hunting, a Journey towards Intimacy, his autobiography up until her death, was published in 2007.

In 1998 he married Judith Favor. They were divorced in 2002.

In 2003 he married Polly Pearse Gates, who had been a classmate of his late wife’s at Wellesley College and a dear friend to her for many years. They spent the rest of their lives together, very happily, until Polly died peacefully on July 24, 2021.

He is survived by his children: Susan (Doug), Thomas (Durga), Katherine (Sean) and Sally (Alex); grandchildren Scott and Christopher (and their father Brooks), Jessie and Cirrus; Polly’s children Karen (Jimmy) and Gordon (Joanna); and many wonderful nieces, nephews and extended family.

His family wishes to express thanks for the outstanding care, love and companionship provided by the staff and residents of Pilgrim Place, Pitzer Lodge, VNA Hospice and Palliative Care, and the Health Services Center at Pilgrim Place.

In lieu of flowers, Mr. Fuller requested that gifts be given to the Resident Health and Support Fund of Pilgrim Place, at https://www.pilgrimplace.org/giving; Oxfam, at https://give.oxfamamerica.org/page/25564/donate/1; or a charity of your choice.

A memorial service will be planned for a later date.

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