SFTS CHIMES | Fall 2012
Dr. Polly Coote:
The heart
of the SFTS community for over 30 years
By Anitra Kitts
n a hot afternoon after gradu-
ation last May, San Francisco
Theological Seminary stu-
dents, alumni, teachers and administra-
tors gathered at Baird Hall to celebrate
Dr. Polly Coote’s retirement. The room
was crowded and the tables were over
flowing with Western and Korean food
and drink. Still, in the middle of the
chaotic swirl of graduating, preparing to
move, and recovering from final exams
and papers, the community gathered
to celebrate the woman who had just
walked her final class of graduates off
the field.
There was perhaps a sense of disbelief
in the room that Polly had indeed retired
since she had served in the registrar’s of-
fice, first as an assistant, and then as the
registrar for over 30 years. After decades
of bocci games, baklava baking parties,
unexpected moments of satiric serenade
from the Bonhoofers, Christmas carols
and cookies parties, and marathon hikes
from the campus to the ocean, Polly was
wrapping up many of her numerous du-
A master of eight languages, Polly is
kind of surprised herself that she spent 30
some years as registrar, dean of student
life and associate professor of Biblical
Greek at SFTS. She earned her MA and
PhD degrees at Harvard, and taught two
years at Brown University before moving
to the University of California, Berkeley,
where she taught Yugoslav literature and
Slavic folklore. After her family’s move
to California, her husband, Dr. Robert
Coote, joined the faculty at SFTS, where
he was an Old Testament professor for
35 years.
Of teaching at UCB, she remarked,
“I had a 1-year-old child and there was
not a lot of money for childcare,” she
recalled. “No one said back then that
these were your choices. It turns out
that an academic career at Berkeley isn’t
something you can do in your spare time
while the kid is napping.”
At first, after her family moved to the
SFTS campus, Polly worked as an assis-
tant to John Irvine, another legendary
source of hospitality as head of the Of-
fice of Student Services. “I made copies
of transcripts,” she recalled.
Before long Polly was co-teaching
the Greek intersession class, and she’s
been sharing her love of Biblical lan-
guages and learning ever since.
“For many students, the idea of
learning Greek was a nightmare,” said
Rev. Chandler Stokes (M.Div. ’82).
“Polly maintained both appropriate ex-
pectations for their learning and deep
compassion for their fear. She was both,
‘you can do this, it’s not that hard,’ and
at the same time respective of their fear
and anxiety.”
Rev. Dr. Neal Presa (M.Div. ’02),
moderator of the 220th PC(USA) Gen-
eral Assembly, had taken Greek at an-
other seminary, but really appreciated
taking it again with Polly. “Her mastery
of Greek, her ease and her humor helped
me appreciate the language. She was so
wise and she knew so many languages.”
In 2005, when the bookstore was
closed and student morale was low,
Audrey Wilkinson (M.Div. ’07) ap-
Dr. Polly Coote
is stepping away
from many
duties, but will
continue to teach
Biblical Greek.
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