Bath—Rev. Dr. George F. Dole, 89, died peacefully on June 29, 2021, at Mid Coast Hospital. Despite the brevity of his final illness, his family was able to gather by his side.
George was born in Fryeburg, Maine, to Louis A. Dole, pastor of the Fryeburg New Church (Swedenborgian), and Anita S. Dole, the author of an extensive Bible study still in print. In 1937 Louis became the pastor of the Swedenborgian church in Bath, resuming a connection with the city established when his own father had been minister there. Thus Bath became George’s true hometown. At Bath’s Morse High School George discovered two of the great constants of his life: his delight in learning and his talent for running. He capped a senior year of athletics by graduating as valedictorian in 1948, at the age of sixteen, and went on to Yale on a full scholarship then offered by Pepsi-Cola.
At Yale he competed in track at the varsity level and majored in classics, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1952. He took his twin passions to Oxford University, where he studied Hebrew and, in just one notable event, won the Oxford-Cambridge Mile. This particular achievement earned him a place as one of six participants in the historic race at Iffley Road Track in 1954, when Roger Bannister was the first to “break the four-minute mile.”
After George received his M.A. from Oxford, he was accepted into the doctoral program in the Department of Assyriology at Yale. On his return to the United States, he met the third and greatest constant of his life: his sister Louise introduced him to Lois Seekamp, then a registered nurse who was babysitting for Louise’s children. Lois had grown up in the Swedenborgian Church of the Neighbor in Brooklyn, New York. She had even been named after a congregant there, Lois Burnham Wilson, who is now widely known for having co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous with her husband, “Bill W.”
George and Lois married in 1957. The death of George’s thesis advisor, and the replacement of that faculty member with a new advisor who was not amenable to the topic of George’s thesis, led the young couple to strike out on a different path. George had always wished to be a Swedenborgian minister, and now he and Lois moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, so that George could attend the New Church Theological School. Lois worked at Massachusetts General Hospital until their first child, Stuart, was born in 1959.
After being ordained in 1960, George began his pastoral career at the Cambridge Society of the New Jerusalem. At the same time he transferred his studies to Harvard in order to continue work on his thesis under the renowned Assyriologist Thorkild Jacobsen. In 1965 his thesis, Partnership Loans in the Old Babylonian Period, was accepted with distinction.
In 1969 he enlarged his service to others yet more by beginning to teach part time at the Swedenborg School of Religion in Newton. He continued as pastor in Cambridge until 1973, when he turned to teaching full time. In addition to personally rendering guidance and assistance to students of religion, George wrote numerous articles and books about Swedenborg’s theology, occasionally even translating German or Russian scholarship for the benefit of English readers.
One great beneficiary of George’s acumen and labor was the Swedenborg Foundation, for which he served as director for forty-two years and as president for three. The film script he wrote for the Foundation, Images of Knowing, received a Gabriel Award in 1986, and in the very next year his second film script, The Other Side of Life, garnered several other honors. Beginning in the 1990s, George spearheaded the Foundation’s ambitious project to translate Swedenborg’s theological works from Latin into accessible modern English. Not only was he central in the planning for the series, but ultimately he translated fifteen of its eighteen titles. Its first and flagship volume, Heaven and Hell, is Swedenborg’s most popular work, and in George’s fresh and lucid translation it will continue to inspire readers for years to come.
George retired from classroom teaching in 1999. In that year, he and Lois moved to Bath, where he became pastor of the Swedenborgian church. In a further contribution to the local community, he joined the Rotary, which he literally blessed with the invocations he gave at its meetings.
New technology, which George had always welcomed with zest, allowed him to “unretire” in 2001 and resume teaching via a video link with the Center for Swedenborgian Studies in Berkeley, California. In 2020 the Center recognized his decades of contribution to Swedenborgian scholarship by establishing a faculty chair in his honor.
Even in fields in which George was not a professional, his interest led him to excel. He read broadly and thought deeply in fields such as science, politics, and economics. He loved music, and with his keen sense of pitch he was the cornerstone of the tenor section in several local chorus groups. He and Lois were members of a Gilbert and Sullivan society for many years, and George delighted in taking on comic roles. He also played classical guitar and a harpsichord that he had built from a kit. He had solid skills as a handyman, which he put to use in maintaining the rustic family camp in Wayne. His friends often received gifts of maple syrup, apple cider, or crabapple jelly made with his own hands.
As the years passed, he never lost his zeal for speed; he continued running noncompetitively into his mid-eighties. His perennial fitness was legendary among his acquaintance, and in fact he outlived all the participants in the historic Iffley race. In 2014, the Fryeburg New Church Assembly, a Swedenborgian church summer gathering, established an annual race in his honor, the Dole 3-Miler.
Despite all of his interests and accomplishments, at the end of his life George said that his greatest reward was his family. He was a most beloved husband, father, and grandfather, who blessed the lives of his family with his support, love, generosity, vitality, and humor. He is survived by his wife, Lois; his children, Stuart, Alicia, Sarah, Andrew, and Bruce; his daughter-in-law, Sarah Buteux; and his grandchildren, George and Genevieve.
The center of this rich and productive life, and the basis of George’s every interaction with the world, was his faith. His trust in the goodness of God was absolute.
A memorial service will be held on August 14 in Fryeburg at the Fryeburg New Church Assembly. All are welcome. Details and RSVP: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/20f054ba8ae2ea3fa7-memorial. Kindly RSVP by August 1.
No flowers, please.
Donations in George’s memory can be sent to George Dole Chair, The Center for Swedenborgian Studies, 1798 Scenic Ave., Berkeley, CA 94709 or Bath Church of the New Jerusalem, P.O Box 1139, Bath ME 04530.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of George F. Dole, please visit our floral store.
George Dole Chair, The Center for Swedenborgian Studies
1798 Scenic Ave., Berkeley CA 94709
Bath Church of the New Jerusalem
P.O. Box 1139, Bath ME 04530