Joseph Miller Gettys was born in 1907 at Water Oaks, his family’s 150 acre farm near Tirzah in York County, South Carolina. He was the eighth of eleven children, all of whom completed college degrees, with several completing advanced degrees. Dr. Gettys attended Erskine College in Due West, SC, and upon his graduation he enrolled in the Erskine Theological Seminary. After attending for one year he was offered a three year fellowship at the New York Biblical Seminary. He moved to New York City and earned a BA and a masters degree in systematic theology there. He then attended New York University and completed a doctorate of philosophy in 1938.
After coming to Presbyterian College in 1956 to teach in the Religion Department, he later served the college as Academic Dean from 1962-69. He was named the first Kristen Herrington Professor of Bible, a chair later held by Dr. George Ramsey, and currently held by Dr. Robert A. Bryant. This endowed chair was funded by Mr. and Mrs. John F. McLeod of Chesterfield, South Carolina, in memory of their granddaughter who passed away at the age of four. Mr. McLeod was a long-time member of the PC Board of Trustees.
After Dr. Gettys retired from PC in 1974, he delivered the 1975 Commencement address, “Computer or Conscience,” also receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Divinity from PC during the ceremony that day. Twice after his retirement from PC, Dr. Gettys served Erskine Seminary as an interim faculty member. In 1984 he received a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Erskine College and in 2003 was inducted into Erskine’s Academic Hall of Fame.
Dr. Gettys served 44 churches as pastor or interim pastor over the years. He founded two Presbyterian churches, Westminster Presbyterian in Greenwood, SC and Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian in Charlotte, NC. He was a prolific author of over 20 books, including religious booklets and Sunday school materials for young people. One of his most popular books is What Presbyterians Believe, which sold over 50,000 copies in the first printing.
Dr. Joe’s lovely wife of 67 years, Mary Lou Schirmer Gettys, a Presbyterian elder and gifted church educator herself, was stricken with Alzheimer’s disease in the 1990s. Dr. Joe kept a journal during that period and was encouraged by nurses at the Presbyterian Community of SC in Clinton where they had been living since 1993 to share his experience with other caregivers for Alzheimer patients. He wrote Caregivers Can Survive, which went into a second printing in 2004, a year after Mary Lou passed away. He stated in an interview, “If the sharing helps someone else undergoing a similar experience, then it becomes worthwhile…this is our purpose and this is our hope.”
Dr. Joe played golf into his 90s and until recently, he planted tomatoes, squash, and peanuts outside his apartment at the Presbyterian Community in Clinton. Growing up on the farm in York County, the family “grew what we ate and ate what we grew,” he stated in a Clinton Chronicle article in May 2010. He and his brothers and sisters had worked tirelessly to harvest cotton and a variety of fruits and vegetables on the family farm.
Dr. Joe is still busy at age 107, making his morning rounds to greet fellow residents at the Presbyterian Community in Clinton, attending PC Basketball games, tending his garden, and riding the First Presbyterian Church bus to Sunday services each week. At his 100th birthday celebration in 2007, he was awarded Presbyterian College’s highest honor, the PC Medallion, established in 2001 and given to individuals who exemplify the central characteristics of a Christian leader. In 2004, Dr. Joseph M. Gettys was awarded the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest award recognizing his “contributions and friendship to the State of South Carolina and her people.”
On the walls of his apartment hang numerous awards and citations, many if not most were received after his retirement from Presbyterian College in 1974. He continues to provide pastoral care to his fellow residents at the Presbyterian Community, once stating, “I thank the good Lord for giving me the strength to do all that He’s enabled me to do.”