Obituary: Reverend Joseph C. Hough Jr.

Grandfather, esteemed professor, minister

The Reverend Joseph C. Hough Jr., or Joe as he was known to everyone, died May 15, a few months shy of his 90thbirthday, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

He was born and raised in North Carolina, but his career took him all over the world. He had a distinguished career as an academic leader, professor, and minister. He served as interim president of Claremont Graduate University (formerly Claremont Graduate School). Before that, as president at Union Theological Seminary in New York for 10 years, rescuing the seminary from financial hardship and re-establishing Union as a leader in theological education. His tenure at Union was preceded by nine years at Vanderbilt University, where he served as the dean of the divinity school, and almost 30 years in Claremont, where he served on the faculty of Claremont Graduate University and as the dean of the Claremont School of Theology.

He was also active in the Claremont community, serving as a school board member, championing inclusion, diversity, and equality. He was an active member of the Claremont United Church of Christ.

He was an intellectual whose whole life (there was no separation) was his ability to dissect, contextualize, debate, and philosophize religious ethics and social policy. In the later part of his career he dedicated himself to addressing the crisis of poverty in America, appearing on television and using his platform to increase awareness and organizing events to create awareness and mobilize people to action. He firmly believed it was our moral obligation to eradicate poverty, which he believed was the root cause of many of society’s ills.

Hough earned numerous honors over the years. Claremont Graduate University awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2010; Yale University recognized him as an alumnus of distinction in 2007; Wake Forest University named him an honorary Doctor of Divinity in 1991; and The Claremont School of Theology presented him with its Centennial Medal for Distinguished Service in 1986. He also received the Joshua Award from the Jewish Federation Council in 1986 for outstanding contributions to human relations. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, Congregational, Hough wrote three books on theological education, the church and ministry, and a book about social ethics.

“But Joe was more than his many career accomplishments; he was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, brother, and friend,” his family shared. “He possessed many gifts, but all who knew him would agree that Joe had the gift of gab like no one else and the best laugh. He was an accomplished storyteller, and you knew you were in for a good one when his Southern drawl grew thicker.”

The story he loved to tell the most was when he met his bride of 63 years, Heidi Nussbaumer.

“Joe met Heidi when he was an associate minister in a Baptist church in Tennessee while visiting local farms,” his family continued. “Joe was immediately smitten by Heidi and asked her father if he could take her on a date. Heidi’s father was an old-fashioned Swiss dairy farmer who was not enamored of the dating customs of young Americans. Despite this, he agreed to let Joe have a date with Heidi (probably in deference to his ministerial status). Joe did not waste time or the opportunity and proposed to Heidi on the second date. Heidi and Joe spent their lives together, traveling the world and having many adventures.”

His greatest happiness came when his four grandchildren arrived in rapid succession from 1994 to 1998. He took great delight in showing them the world (taking them to their first Broadway shows, scouring New York City for the perfect pizza, swimming in the pool or ocean with them, baptizing them, unforgettable trips to London, the beach, epic and ruthless games of Sorry!

“Whenever a Hough grandchild needed a ‘come to Jesus talk,’ ironically, Joe knew just how to deliver it without sounding like a sermon,” his family said. “All four grandkids agree that Joe’s guidance was wiser and more useful than their parents’ offerings.

“Joe’s daily ritual was reading the New York Times each morning at the breakfast table out loud to everyone, whether you wanted to hear it or not. Lively discussions ensued, which he reveled in, and usually continued to the dinner table that night. The Hough household usually had one or two extra plates set at dinner time. It was common for friends, family, colleagues, and his children’s friends to stop for discussion, debate, and fellowship over a great meal cooked by Heidi.”

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Heidi; his sons and their spouses, Mark and Susannah and Matthew and Mary; and his grandchildren, Joseph, Sam, Riley, and Ellie.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 25 in the sanctuary of Claremont United Church of Christ, 233 W. Harrison Ave., Claremont, CA 91711.

The family is asking that instead of flowers, donations be made to Pilgrim Place Resident Health and Support Program at; Claremont United Church of Christ at; or the Keck School of Medicine, Alzheimer’s Therapeutic Research Institute at


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