t’s difficult for those who did not attend Pacific Union College between 1938 and 1985 to understand the colossal esteem PUC alumni have for Dr. Walter C. Utt. Hundreds of PUC graduates can hardly remember their “PUC days” without a fond memory of Dr. Utt. He was, it would seem, more than a just a history professor. He was a legend.
In 1985, a few days before his 64th birthday, Walter Utt died. His untimely death was sad for a number of reasons. First, many incoming students lost the opportunity to enjoy his quick wit and riveting “conversational lectures” in the classroom. Second, as best-selling author and PUC alumnus Joe Wheeler said, “A little bit of myself died” the day Dr. Utt died. Most of Utt’s students would probably agree with that. And third, Dr. Utt’s primary research was never fully completed.
He had set out to write the first authoritative biography of Claude Brousson, 1647-1698, a revolutionary preacher and Huguenot lawyer when it was a terrifying time to be either. Louis XIV’s absolutist state made it illegal to preach Protestantism in France, yet Brousson did. As a result, he was martyred.
Dr. Utt’s extensive research went well beyond one man’s life and included military and diplomatic developments in other parts of Europe. The manuscript he left behind was enormous—more than 900 pages. At the time of his death, he was revising the manuscript for publication.
Students of Dr. Utt established an endowment to honor their former teacher. Officially recognized by PUC’s Board in 1988, the endowment raised money to create an endowed professorship in Dr. Utt’s honor and to find a way to complete his last book. In 1999, the Utt Endowment invited Brian E. Strayer, a specialist in French history at Andrews University, to revise and complete Dr. Utt’s manuscript. Strayer’s primary task was to cut the manuscript down to a more readable size—252 pages. He also supplemented the research of Dr. Utt, and this past February their joint efforts produced a new hardcover biography, The Bellicose Dove.
Their finished product is a fascinating look at an extraordinary martyr. Using fresh archival research conducted in Geneva, Paris, London, Holland, and Switzerland, Utt and Strayer provide an enthralling look at Brousson’s relationship with his wife and children, his preaching style, as well as his interrogation, torture, and execution in Montpellier in November 1698.