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Walla Walla, WA
Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The Theory of John McVay

December 5, 2022
Garrett Christensen

What You Probably Don’t Know About Our President

Garrett Christensen

“I have started playing pickleball and I rather like it. If I could just figure out how to stay out of the kitchen, I’d be better.”  

The face of President John Mcvay is a familiar one around campus. Many know of him, but I venture that most truly know little about him. That is about to change. 

Our president was born in Corvallis, Oregon as the son of a pastor and the youngest of three kids. His parents were both graduates of Walla Walla College and always spoke of it fondly.  

Early in his life, McVay’s family moved to Texas and, later, to Greenville, Tennessee where he “did most of his growing up.” Through this move to the South, McVay met his future wife, Pam. Around age 9, he remembers “admiring her from afar.” Later, they became good friends when she transferred to Georgia Cumberland Academy. 

Early in his junior year at GCA, “there was this new thing that had never happened on the planet before called computer dating.” He and Pam sat across the aisle from each other and cross-referenced their forms so they could be paired together. “We started dating through a computer date and began to have a friendship and a good deal of fun together,” he said. 

They graduated from GCA and decided to attend Southern Adventist University: “It was a time when you supported the local institution, and you didn’t travel across the continent.” However, he felt that he was “breaking an important family tradition” by not attending Walla Walla College. 

During his years at Southern, McVay studied theology. He had always known he wanted to be a pastor. “It was a sort of dawning of consciousness thing. I learned in my high school years that I like working with people and found real meaning in it,” he said  

McVay and Pam stayed close friends until their junior year at Southern when they officially started dating. They fell in love and two weeks after graduation in 1980, they got married.  

McVay and his wife Pam graduating from Southern Adventist University.

In his own words, McVay “took the traditional path” to becoming a university president. After graduating from Southern, McVay attended seminary at Andrews University. He went on to pastor for three years and then started teaching at Pacific Union College. PUC paid for him to get his doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary and later at the University of Sheffield in England.  

After finishing his residency there, McVay came back and worked at PUC for 13 years, eventually becoming the dean of the theology department. After that, he moved back to Andrews University as the associate chair and then chair of their theology department. “[It] had its own multimillion dollar budget, and it was kind of like a small institution within a bigger [one].” From that job he gained the experience in academic administration he would need when he became president of our school in 2006. 

McVay being covered in sour cream and honey after his friends found out about his engagement to Pam.

Many see John McVay as the head of our school — but what they do not see is all the work that he puts in behind the scenes. “It is extremely varied work.” On any given day, in addition to his on-campus duties, he could be meeting with local church leaders or lobbying at the state legislature.  

He said that one thing the average student might not know about his job is “how much I worry about crises on campus. I go to bed every night with my cell phone on the nightstand, not knowing when it’s going to ring.” Being on call carries an emotional burden for him: “You feel the sense that at any point something could happen.” 

Despite the many demands on his time, McVay still finds time to rest and enjoy his hobbies. He likes fixing things around the house and is “not a bad mechanic.” He also “spends a fair bit of time researching and writing New Testament studies.” He says it’s a type of “therapy.” McVay still finds time to get outside as well. He enjoys traveling and “doing things outdoors” like camping and going kayaking with his wife.  

I loved my time getting to interview McVay. While I was talking with him, he took time to get to know me as well, asking me about my hobbies and writing down my name and major in his book of names. By the end of the interview, I understood why so many students love him as the leader of our school: he genuinely cares about us. [1] 



  1. Interview with John McVay, 11/10/2022. 
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