STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 04/09/2015

Remembering Godspell, and Becky Donaldson '84

(Story idea submitted by Sarah Griffin Pemberton ’82)

Back in the 1981–1982 academic year, students who lived in Wilson and another Gordon College residence hall—Shepherd, perhaps?—pooled their resources and talents to mount a production of the Broadway musical Godspell. It was low-budget but fantastic. So many people turned out for the shows in Winn Library’s downstairs lecture hall that more performances were added. As written, Godspell only vaguely and symbolically alludes to the resurrection—as a feeling of hope in the hearts of the disciples who carry Jesus’ “memory” into the world. But in the Gordon College version, Jesus got up. Cast members portraying his disciples erupted into an explosive celebration: “He’s alive! He’s alive!” they yelled, and the audience rose to its feet while the entire cast danced down the aisles singing “Long Live God,” and then segueing into “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord!”

A star of the show was a sophomore named Becky Donaldson. "Becky was from New Hampshire, a bright, cheery, kind, friendly girl who loved to sing and serve her King,” reports Sarah Griffin Pemberton ’82, who lives in Alabama now. Becky frequently teamed with two other girls as an Andrews Sisters tribute band; they sang that trio’s boogie-woogie hits at various school events, as well as hymns during Chapel. “Becky was the soloist for ‘Oh, Bless the Lord, My Soul!’ during that Godspell production. Her breathless joy and million-watt smile as I hugged her at the end of the show is my last vivid memory of her,” Sarah recalls. “I graduated that spring.”

But in late August of 1982, as she began her junior year by volunteering during Freshman Orientation, Becky suddenly died. She was jogging with a friend when she went into cardiac arrest and collapsed. “Becky was one of those people who had no idea how many people loved her,” Sarah goes on. “My brother James Griffin was her classmate, and he tells me that her memorial service at Gordon that autumn was attended by over 500 people. Dean of the Chapel Harold Bussell left a grieving student body and family with these words: ‘It’s not the duration, but the donation that counts [in the Kingdom of Heaven].’

"Her friends and her family compiled a cassette tape of amateur recordings of Becky singing, which was sold to jumpstart a scholarship fund in her memory. I still have that cassette, with a lovely photo of Becky sitting in front of Frost Hall.

“This is my favorite Gordon College story. It is not what you would call ‘light,’ but it is certainly about a joyful legacy, despite life’s later sorrows."