ATLANTA – Mercer University President William D. Underwood announced at a Board of Trustees dinner in Atlanta last night that Dr. R. Kirby Godsey, Mercer’s chancellor and its longest-serving president, has made a $1.5 million gift to establish the Joan S. Godsey Center for Keyboard Studies in the Townsend School of Music in honor of his wife, Joan.
The gift, which recognizes Joan Godsey’s many contributions to Mercer, and in particular her love of and commitment to music, will enable the School of Music to join the nation’s other premier music programs as an All-Steinway school, funding the purchase of 37 Steinways and the refurbishment of seven existing Steinways. It will also create an endowment fund for the perpetual maintenance of the master pianos.
The new Joan S. Godsey Center for Keyboard Studies will host the annual Joan S. Godsey Concert Series, which will feature leading international performing keyboard artists. The Godsey Center joins the Robert McDuffie Center for Strings and the Townsend-McAfee Institute for Graduate Church Music Studies as signature programs of the Townsend School of Music.
“We are very excited about becoming one of only 164 institutions worldwide to be an All-Steinway School. Mercer has always been an institution that promotes excellence and this extraordinary gift demonstrates that the Townsend School of Music is committed to excellence and quality,” said Dr. David Keith, dean of the Townsend School of Music. “Pianos are the backbone of the entire performing arts program and are used in classrooms, rehearsals, practice rooms, and private lessons. Having Steinway pianos through the McCorkle Music Building ensures a piano legacy that will be recognized by prospective and current students, parents, as well as peer institutions. We are deeply indebted to Dr. R. Kirby Godsey for funding the Joan S. Godsey Center for Keyboard Studies.”
Born and raised in Hattiesburg, Miss., Joan Stockstill Godsey became very active in the church at a young age, playing the church piano on special occasions and faithfully engaging in the ministry of the church. After graduating from Mississippi College with a bachelor of music degree in piano, she taught piano to children for a year and then went on to serve as Baptist Student Union Director at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss.
She furthered her education at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where she earned a master’s degree in church music and a master’s degree in religious education. After earning her degrees, she stayed on at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to teach in the School of Music. This is where she met Dr. Godsey.
The couple married in April of 1959, and she continued to teach both college music courses and Sunday School at her local church. Then, while living in Marion, Ala., amidst the Civil Rights Movement, she had the opportunity to be part of what she felt was an exciting new program for underprivileged children. It was called Head Start, and she was one of two white women who agreed to get the program started in the community just down the road from Selma, Ala.
While Dr. Godsey attended Tulane University in New Orleans, La., working on his doctor of philosophy degree, Mrs. Godsey served as organist at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church. The couple and their four children then moved to Danville, Va., where she served as organist, choir master and minister of music at First Baptist Church of Danville. Eight years later, the family moved to Macon, where Dr. Godsey became dean of Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts, and, in 1979, Mercer’s 17th president.
Mrs. Godsey became organist-choir master at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Macon for four years before joining her family at First Baptist Church, where she served as interim choir director for a year and a half and played the organ on various occasions. She was later ordained as a deacon of First Baptist Church.
In 2005, The Baptist Women in Ministry of Georgia named Joan Godsey the Distinguished Churchwoman of the Year. She is active in the Macon community, including being a contributing member to the Macon Music Club, the History Club of Macon and the Macon Symphony.
Dr. Godsey served as Mercer’s 17th president from July 1, 1979, until June 30, 2006, longer than any of his 16 predecessors. Under Dr. Godsey’s leadership, Mercer grew to be the only college or university of its size in the country to offer such diverse programs as liberal arts, business, education, engineering, pharmacy, law, theology, nursing, medicine and music.