The Rev. Peter Gomes died on Feb. 28 from complications arising from a stroke. He was 68 years old.
He had suffered a major stroke in December and was receiving care at Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston and friends had remained hopeful despite what was expected to be a long and difficult recovery.
Born in Boston in 1942 to Peter L. and Orissa White Gomes, Gomes was raised in Plymouth and was a 1961 graduate of Plymouth High School, and of Bates College in Maine and Harvard Divinity School. He earned his doctorate in music. For most of his life, Gomes resided in his family home on Russell Street until selling it a few years ago for a larger home on Water Street.
Gomes was ordained by the First Baptist Church of Plymouth in 1968, according to the Harvard Gazette, after his ordination in 1968, he taught briefly at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama before returning to Harvard in 1970 to serve as assistant minister in Memorial Church. In 1974, he was appointed Pusey Minister of Memorial Church and Plummer Professor of Morals at Harvard College. He served as a member of Harvard’s arts and sciences faculty as well as a professor in the divinity school.
Gomes accumulated 39 honorary degrees and became a best-selling author and an internationally renowned speaker and preacher.
He worshipped with the Queen of England and offered prayers at the inaugurations of two presidents.
He is a member of The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, the oldest order of chivalry in Britain, and preached at the inauguration of Gov. Deval Patrick in 2007.
According to The Old Colony Memorial, in June 2008, the First Baptist Church of Plymouth hosted a reaffirmation of Gomes’ vows, celebrating the 40th anniversary of his ordination in that same church in 1968. Gomes made a point of including the entire town of Plymouth in the invitation list.
He’s been a frequent guest on Imus in the Morning, appeared on The Colbert Report in 2008 and was featured in the PBS African American Lives series with Henry Louis Gates Jr.
In 1991, Gomes, a self-described cultural conservative, stunned many when he came out as a homosexual in response to gay bashing on the Harvard campus.
“I’m always seen as a black man and now I’m seen as a black gay man. If you throw the other factors in there that make me peculiar and interesting — the Yankee part, the Republican part, the Harvard type — all that stuff confuses people who have to have a single stereotypical lens in order to assure themselves they have a grasp on reality,” he said in an interview with the Boston Herald in 1996.
Last year, Gomes announced his intention to retire from Harvard in 2012.
Gomes is a past president of the Pilgrim Society and served as chairman of the town’s 400th Anniversary Committee, planning the 2020 celebration of the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims.
Senate President Therese Murray was in Plymouth this morning at a legislative breakfast and had this to say:
“Reverend Gomes wasn’t just a voice against intolerance; he was a voice for acceptance. By his very nature, his words and the way he lived his life, the Reverend taught us the value of people and the importance of love, understanding that we are equal and with purpose. We are proud to call him a son of Plymouth and of history. He was the spiritual pillar of our community and the Commonwealth – a great teacher, author and orator who changed so many lives for the better. His passing is a great loss, but his words, his wisdom and his life will continue to be a model and an inspiration. I am pleased his final home will be in Plymouth.”
Plymouth Patch will have more on Rev. Gomes life.