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Ableson Legacy Affirms Religious Reconciliation

In only 50 years of life, alumnus Brad Ableson influenced the nation’s military, advised U.S. President Bill Clinton and became a recognized voice in global religious reconciliation. Now his legacy will provide future generations of USAO students new opportunities to learn from his example.

A bequest of $250,000 from the estate of U.S. Navy Captain Bradford Edward Ableson will establish a chair in religious reconciliation at USAO.  It will be matched by the Oklahoma State Regents to make a $500,000 corpus.

“Brad Ableson’s family has made a courageous choice to honor him in this way,” said Dr. Michael Nealeigh, vice president for university advancement. “What will be accomplished in his name through this gift may have a global impact through the lives of students, just as Brad’s life literally touched the world.”

Ableson died of cancer on Feb. 17, 2009, just weeks after he was named to the USAO Alumni Hall of Fame. He was a 1980 graduate of USAO. He and his wife, Julia Ableson, made their home in Belle Vue, Neb.

Ableson was born in January 1959 in Tulsa. He graduated magna cum laude from USAO, received a master's degree in pastoral counseling from Boston University in 1982, the master of divinity from Yale Divinity School in 1985 and a doctor of ministry from Columbia Theological Seminary in 1999.

In 2008, Ableson was named a distinguished alumnus of Yale, receiving the prestigious Lux et Veritas award. In 1984, Ableson was commissioned in the Navy's theological student program and served as a Naval reservist. Following ordination in 1985 and two years of pastoral ministry in Tulsa, he was recalled to active duty in 1987.

Ableson served a 25-year naval career with extensive time in the fleet including ministry in surface ships, submarines, and aviation units. He provided combat ministry with Marines during the first Gulf War and subsequently served as a group chaplain in the Third Marine Aircraft Wing.

In 1996 he assumed presidential service duties as the chaplain at Camp David during the Clinton administration. Later, after serving as an executive to the chief of Navy chaplains, he attended the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island where he graduated with distinction.

In 2002 he reported to the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, on which he served as senior chaplain on two combat cruises during the Global War on Terror. In 2004 he was promoted to the rank of Navy captain and assumed responsibilities as command chaplain of the U.S. Strategic Command where he served as special advisor on matters of religion at the strategic level. While at the Strategic Command, Ableson was named priest-in-residence at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral -- a position he held until his death.

In 1986 he married Julia Tevis, his wife throughout every day of his active duty naval service and in 22 years of marriage. At the time of their wedding he was a widower, having been married to the former Gina Marie Benzel, also a USAO alum, who died in January 1983.

At his Alumni Hall of Fame induction, USAO President John Feaver lauded Ableson’s achievements.

“Brad Ableson is the quintessential USAO alumus,” Feaver said. “His lifelong pursuit of excellence in his field, coupled with his global view of inquiry and service reflect the USAO ideals as a liberal arts institution. Brad has distinguished himself and this college throughout his life, in private as well as public ways.”

Navy Commander Lawrence M. Benzel of Tulsa nominated Ableson for the USAO Alumni Hall of Fame. “Commissioned in 1984, he rose through the Navy ranks from ensign to captain in one of the most remarkable Navy chaplain careers of the century. He has single-handedly expanded the vision of American military chaplaincy from the simple provision of services for uniformed personnel to include the task of religious engagement and reconciliation at the strategic level.

“Only a person with brains and passion could move a massive bureaucratic institution the way he has. Only a person with tremendous compassion for suffering humanity would use his abilities to pursue the issues he chose. Brad has done what no person could reasonably expect to accomplish in one lifetime – he has brought the compassion of Christ to the battlefield and the combat fleet. He has preached the Gospel to thousands of fine Americans who did not know if they would see another sunrise.”