Timothy Powell: In Memory

It is with profound sadness that the Department of Religious Studies announces the passing away of our wonderful colleague, Dr. Timothy Burgess Powell, on November 1, 2018.

Services will be held at 10am, Friday, November 16, 2018 at West Laurel Hill Cemetery Chapel, 225Belmont Ave, Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004.

In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to Fidelity Charitable. Please write on the memo line that it is for the Timothy B. Powell Scholarship Fund, Account No. 1152358. Mail to Fidelity Charitable, P.O. Box 770001, Cincinnati, OH 45277-0053. 

Tim was born in New Haven, Connecticut on November 9, 1959 at the Yale New Haven Hospital to his loving parents, David and Lucia Powell. He grew up in Cheshire, Connecticut and graduated from Cheshire High School in 1978. Following high school, Tim earned his bachelor's degree in philosophy and political science from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania in 1982. He then traveled to Egypt where he taught English and eventually met his beautiful future bride and best friend, Eve Troutt who was a Presidential Intern at the American University in Cairo at the time. They were later married on September 5, 1987 at the Riverside Church in New York City. Egypt and the Middle East would become a second home as they often traveled back to the area as Eve carried out her academic research.

During the early years of their marriage, both Tim and Eve decided to dedicate their lives to academia. Tim graduated with his master's degree in English (1987) from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and then earned his doctoral degree in American Literature and History (1995) from Brandeis University, in Waltham, Massachusetts. Eve completed her doctoral degree at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts the same year and the two began a long and successful career in higher education. Tim taught briefly at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, during which time their son Jibreel was born in 1994. The family then moved to Georgia where Tim and Eve both joined the faculty at the University of Georgia in Athens. Son Gideon was born there in 2001. In 2006 the family relocated to the northeast, where Tim and Eve both joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Tim taught courses in literature, cultural anthropology and religious studies, all of which encompassed Native American and Indigenous Studies, which became the legacy of his scholarly work.

Tim devoted his career to the preservation and revitalization of Native American and Indigenous language and culture. The author of several scholarly texts, numerous articles and the recipient of 18 federal and philanthropic grants, Tim traveled throughout the United States and Canada visiting with indigenous communities in his tireless efforts to encourage the digital repatriation of native artifacts. Several elders provided spiritual guidance to Tim, in particular Larry Aitken of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota and Tom Belt of the Cherokee Nation who lives in North Carolina. Tim considered his most important work to be the establishment of the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research (CNAIR) at the American Philosophical Society, a unique academic site supporting the research of indigenous scholars at one of the oldest learned societies in the United States. At the University of Pennsylvania, Tim founded the Educational Partnerships with Indigenous Communities (EPIC) that continued the work of digitizing archives in indigenous languages and returning these texts to their cultural homes. In addition to his academic contributions, Tim, who was the great-great grandson of the Christian preacher Dwight L. Moody, assisted his father David Powell in establishing The Moody Center in Northfield, Massachusetts in 2018.

Tim loved sports and the outdoors and was one of those people who excelled at almost every game he played. He was captain of his high school swim team, who were state champions his senior year, and to no one’s surprise but his own, was selected as Best Athlete at Cheshire High School in 1978. Tim loved playing frisbee in college and was an avid tennis player. Tim enjoyed hiking and fly fishing and spending summers at the family cottages on the Rustic Ridge in Northfield, Massachusetts with his parents, the extended Powell family and many childhood friends. In his many travels, one of his favorite places was northern Minnesota, where he spent special time in the woods and on the lakes. His spirit will never be far from those he loved deeply and the places he called home.

Tim had a particular genius for storytelling, and we would all look forward to when he would say, with a glint in his eye, “Wait, I have a great story about this.” For Tim, great stories came from all over, Egypt and the Nile Valley, the Delta blues, an Objibwe drum, or a Miles Davis trumpet solo. His stories were a way to remember the past, bring together family and friends, and pass on the deeper emotional truths of life. His favorite quote from the poet James Baldwin, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign / No more water, the fire next time," exemplified Tim's passion for social and racial justice.

Most important to Tim were his beloved wife, Eve, and his two sons, Jibreel and Gideon whom he treasured every day of his life. Tim had an infectious laugh, a keen intellect, and a big heart. He will be remembered as a humble and generous spirit, and devoted husband, father, brother, cousin, uncle, and son. Everyone who knew Tim was touched by his warmth, love and laughter, and we will all miss his big, warm embrace.

Tim is survived by his wife Eve Troutt Powell, son Jibreel (Gabe) of Chicago, Illinois, son Gideon of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; his parents David and Lucia Powell of Cheshire, Connecticut; his brother John Powell (Heather) of Voorheesville, New York and their children Ian, Mackenzie, and Henry; his aunt Gloria Powell of Keene, New Hampshire; sister-in-law Margot Keys (William) of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and their daughter Lena; brother-in-law David Troutt (Shawn) of Montclair, New Jersey and their children Naima and Jasmine; and many close cousins, dear friends and colleagues.