Howard and Gladys Giddens opened their hearts, home to Mercer family | Mercer Legends

A couple stands and talks with a woman outside.
Howard and Gladys Giddens. Mercer University photo

The Rev. Dr. Howard and Gladys Giddens were beloved members of the Mercer University community who touched the hearts of generations through their kindness. Here’s how they became Mercer legends.

Dr. Howard and Gladys (Holder) Giddens

Mercer connection: Both earned degrees at Mercer; Howard was a religion professor; and they lived in a house on the Macon campus from 1967 until their deaths. 

Years at Mercer: Gladys was a 1937 graduate, and Howard was a 1934 and 1935 graduate and faculty member from 1967-84. 

What they did: Gladys’s father was the chair of Mercer’s math department and School of Commerce — a predecessor to the School of Business — and she grew up in Macon on College Street. As a student at Mercer, she was one of the first two female cheerleaders, an organizer and member of the University’s first women’s basketball team, and a member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in 1937 and was a math and science teacher for a time. 

A photo collage with two black and white headshots of a woman and two headshots of a man.
From left, Gladys Giddens as a Mercer student in 1934 and 1936, and Howard Giddens as a Mercer student in 1934 and a faculty member in 1968.

Howard was born in Nashville, Georgia, and completed his bachelor’s degree in 1934 and master’s degree in 1935 at Mercer. As a student, he was involved in Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and the Baptist Student Union. He went on to earn a Master of Theology in 1938 and Doctor of Theology in 1946 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and Mercer University awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1955. 

Howard and Gladys met in Macon and married in 1940, and Howard’s work as a Baptist pastor took the couple from New Castle, Kentucky, to several cities in Georgia. In 1967, the Giddenses returned to Macon, so Howard could become the Curry Professor of Christianity. The couple moved into a house on campus. 

Howard was the chair of the Committee of Tenure and faculty advisor for the Baptist Student Union — which he and Gladys helped to revive — and the Mercer Ministerial Association. He was also involved in the Georgia Baptist Convention, serving as its president from 1958-60. Following his retirement in 1984, he stayed involved with Mercer as a consultant for denominational relations and a Mercer Trustee.

Gladys was founder and director of the Campus Baptist Young Women’s organization, which often met at her home, and also involved in Baptist Christian Ministries and Baptist Christian Fellowship. In addition, she was a member of Mercer’s Half Century Club and Women’s Club and stayed active in Alpha Delta Pi. Both Gladys and Howard were members of the Mercer President’s Club and supporters of Mercer University Press. 

Howard died in 2008 at age 97, days away from the couple’s 68th wedding anniversary, and Gladys in 2020 at age 103.

A black and white photo of several women in black shirts and shorts stand in a line with their hands around each other's waists, with the last woman on the right holding a basketball.
Gladys Giddens (second from right) and the Mercer women’s basketball team in 1936.

Why they are legends: When the Giddenses came back to Macon in the 1960s, they opened their hearts and their doors to the Mercer family. Their house on campus — initially located across the street from Shorter Hall and then moved to College Street, across from the Connell Student Center — was a gathering spot for students as well as a guest house for former students and parents. They often invited students over for dinner or took them out to eat, and they took them under their wing and provided gentle guidance whenever needed. 

Howard, who taught the Old and New Testament, was known as “the professor with the open door.” Students knew they were welcome to stop by his campus office anytime. Gladys became “a mother away from home for many Mercer students,” her obituary said. 

“They had no children. We were their children,” alumnus and current trustee Dr. Jimmy Elder said in 2008 after Howard’s passing. 

The kindness, care and understanding the Giddenses displayed made them beloved figures in Mercer and Macon. Howard was recognized as Outstanding Faculty Member in 1977, 1979 and 1981 and was the first recipient of the Zeta Omega Zeta Chapter Lambda Chi Alpha Outstanding Faculty Member Award — also called “the Howard P. Giddens Award” — in 1975. 

Gladys’s service and dedication to students earned her Alpha Delta Pi’s National Sorority Memorial Service Award in 1974, a commendation from Mercer in 1984, the Equipper of the Saints Award from the Georgia Baptist Student Union in 1995, and the Meritorious Service Award from the Mercer Alumni Association.

A black and white photo of eight people standing on steps in front of the door of a brick building.
Howard Giddens (left) on the steps of Willingham Hall.

Quotable: “(Howard) is known and loved by students and alumni. He has been a friend to students, a servant of the University, and a very special colleague to me. I am grateful to the spirit and ministry of this man.” — Former Mercer President Kirby Godsey, at Howard’s retirement in 1984

“To call Mrs. Giddens a force of nature is to give nature too much credit. You of my generation will remember how the Tasmanian Devil would arrive in a whirlwind in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mrs. Giddens was more of an angel, but that’s the effect she had whenever and wherever she showed up.” – Alumnus Mike Ruffin, after Gladys’s death in 2020

Mercer Legends is a series that highlights iconic figures who left a lasting impact on the University and its faculty, staff and students, as well as the community.

A couple holds a plaque.
Gladys and Howard Giddens.


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