SMC Remembers Beloved Professor
By Robert W. Dalton
This article appeared originally in the Fall 2020 issue of Frontiers Magazine.
David Gibson was always happy that Spartanburg Methodist College held its commencement exercises outdoors.
He could wear his sunglasses and no one would see him cry.
“He would say it was sad, that he was going to miss seeing the faces of the graduates,” said Nancy Gibson, his wife of 33 years.
Gibson, who taught mathematics at the College for 44 years, died on Nov. 22, 2019, after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer.
“He was just the picture of health until he started having pain last summer,” Nancy Gibson said. “Up until his diagnosis (in September 2019) he was doing 80 push-ups a day. It was just devastating, the way it all happened so fast.”
SMC President Scott Cochran said Gibson’s passing leaves a huge void at the College.
“David was part of SMC for more than 40 years,” Cochran said. “He was more than a professor. He was a mentor and trusted friend to students, faculty, and staff over the years. His impact on the College and those connected with it cannot be overstated. He changed lives. He was Gibson presenting Alexander Wilson ’19 with the simply amazing and he is missed terribly.”
Gibson came to Spartanburg Methodist College in 1975 and found a home. Over his four decades he educated and entertained thousands of students, who became his extended family. He met his wife there.
“I came to work there in 1986 after getting my doctorate,” Nancy Gibson said. “Somebody left in the middle of the year, and that never happens. We met at a faculty meeting in January and we married in May. We had to wait until school was out.”
Gibson’s job was to teach numbers, but he also challenged his students with words – giving bonus points to those who could take a jumble of letters and come up with the most anagrams. No matter how many students he had in a class, he’d always try to squeeze in one more… and one more.
He never took a day of sick leave until 2010, when he had surgery on his vocal chords. Even then, he tried to find a way to keep going.
“He said you can come in and do my talking for me,” Nancy Gibson said. “He tried it for about two weeks, but he had to take the semester off.”
One of Nancy Gibson’s favorite photographs of her husband was taken in the spring of 2019, before they knew he had cancer.
“His two sisters came to town for his birthday,” Nancy said. “Even though he had been for more than 40 years, they had never been there, so he took them. One of his sisters took a picture of him in his classroom.”
While Gibson’s life revolved around SMC, it didn’t stop there. He gained fame as a tournament Scrabble player, winning national championships in 1994 and 2016. He also loved music and played several instruments, including the piano.
“He could just sit down and start playing original melodies,” Nancy Gibson said. “He took off playing Scrabble for three or four years and during that time decided he wanted us to write some country songs. I’d write the words and he’d write the music. We had about 100 songs, and we found some women who sang and made some CDs.”
Gibson left his mark on his students outside the classroom as well. From plays, to concerts, to sporting events, if his students were involved, he was there to see them.
“He got a substitute for Calculus 3 one time because I sang in SMC’s Chapel Service with the Troubadours of SMC,” said Bret McAbee ’16. “He was a really great guy and super supportive of his students.”
McAbee credits Gibson with helping him graduate on time from Presbyterian College in 2018. “When I came to Presbyterian I was a class short, and he offered it as an independent study at Converse College,” McAbee said. “It was just him and me. I’m pretty sure he did it for free, and he said he was glad to have me for one more class.”
To say thank you, McAbee gave Gibson a tie imprinted with pi carried out to 1,000 places.
About a month before he died, Gibson went to visit McAbee in Landrum, where he works as Power Engineering Technologist for Pike Engineering. They had lunch, they reminisced, and they said goodbye.
“He was my favorite teacher by a long shot,” McAbee said. “He was such a humble, soft-spoken guy. He would help anybody as much as they needed. He was really easy to talk to. It was like talking to your grandpa.”