Death of Richard M. Ritland, Adventist Scientist and Professor

Richard Martin Ritland passed away peacefully at his home on December 13, 2019 in Olympia, Washington. Richard was born in Grants Pass, Oregon July 3, 1925 to Martin and Mae Ritland and grew up in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

After graduating from Portland Union Academy he attended Walla Walla College (1942–1946). His early interest in the Bible and nature as ways to know God led him to study both theology and biology.

Following graduation he married a classmate, Juanita Hansen, who shared his interests and goals.

While he was attending the SDA theological seminary in Washington, DC, he received a call to teach biology at Atlantic Union College (1947–1954). This led him to pursue graduate work in biology at Oregon State University, and later to get his PhD at Harvard University. For several years he taught at Loma Linda University (1954–1960).

Richard’s concerns about issues in science and religion led him to accept a call to assist in developing a research center, Geoscience Research Institute, to help with questions facing the church. While there, he led many field trips with students, faculty, and church leaders.

In his studies he was always in search of “truth” wherever it might lead. He expressed many of his thoughts in his book, A Search for Meaning in Nature (Pacific Press, 1970).

He returned to teaching at Andrews University in 1971 where he mentored many students. He enjoyed interacting with his students and continually encouraged excellence.

In August 1985, Richard directed the Adventist Forum-sponsored Conference on Geology and the Biblical Record held in West Yellowstone, Montana.

Richard was devoted to his family and enjoyed sharing his love of nature with them. Retirement allowed him to travel to many parts of the world observing and studying birds and other wildlife.

It has been remarked that Richard’s “friends and colleagues will remember a great man whose influence stretched far wider than he ever knew.”

Richard is survived by his wife, Juanita, daughter Beth and husband Fred Barrett, and sons Stephen and wife Wendy, Stanley and wife Alice, John and wife Sandra, and Forrest and wife Kathleen.

This obituary was written by Juanita Ritland and provided by friend and colleague James Hayward. Photo courtesy of James Hayward.

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A word of thanks and admiration. I was a student of Richard Ritland at Andrews University in the 1970s. It was an unlikely meeting. I had travelled all the way from Australia to undertake advanced degrees in theology and ministry. A colleague persuaded me to join him in an expedition into paleontology by doing an elective class with Richard Ritland. It became a pivotal point in the maturing of my faith and the development of a robust world view that has stood me in good stead these succeeding 40+ years. Thank you Richard Ritland.


Heartfelt admiration and love from Fred and Polly Cinquemani Dengel. We came to AU in the fall of '71 and were both Biology majors (pre-med). Both of us took Biogeography from Dr. Ritland, Fred in Michigan, and I at our Marine Biology Station in Anacortes, WA. When Fred and I became engaged, Dr. Ritland mentioned his strong approval of the match! I had no idea he was paying any attention! But he was! He & Juanita both watched over all his students. We spent many Sabbath afternoons sipping hot chocolate by the fire and relaxing with other students, talking about the things that were important to us. It was such a joy. Fred & I were also part of the 1985 Geology & the Biblical Record Tour. What a marvelous experience! We met so many others, most of whom were moved by the evidence in the geological record as we were. Dr. Ritland and others so graciously put it all together with the Bible record. We were reminded of God’s greatness, and our smallness and lack of understanding. It was very humbling. We will always remember Dr. Ritland for his kindness, and his courage in supporting the truth, despite pressure from leadership who wanted to see it differently. It gave us courage to persist in our search for God and all He has revealed about Himself.


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