Frank and Jean Gifford

Photo courtesy of Lester Devine.

Gifford, Frank William (1915–1999) and Jean Agnes (Stewart) (1916–2003)

By Lester Devine

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Originally trained as a secondary history teacher, a career long Adventist educator, Lester Devine, Ed.D., has taught at elementary, secondary and higher education levels and spent more than three decades in elected educational leadership positions in two divisions of the world Church, NAD (1969-1982) and SPD (1982-2005). He completed his forty years of denominational service with a term as director of the Ellen G. White/Adventist Research Centre at Avondale University College in Australia where his life-long hobby of learning and presenting on Adventist heritage issues became his vocation. 

Frank and Jean Gifford served the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Australasian and North American Divisions.1

Frank William Gifford was born on June 9, 1915, in New Plymouth, New Zealand.2 He was the second of seven children born to James and Abbey Gifford. Gifford’s mother joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1922, in his seventh year.3 In 1929, following an evangelistic series, Gifford was baptized.4 He worked with his father as a carpenter before attending Longburn College in 1937 and 1938, where he completed the shorter ministerial course and the building construction course.5

It was while attending Longburn that Gifford met Jean Agnes Stewart. They were married on January 14, 1941, in Auckland, New Zealand.6 Born in Hastings, New Zealand, on July 16, 1916,7 Jean Stewart was the second of four daughters born to Ralph and Elizabeth Stewart. Frank and Jean Gifford had four children. Genia, their only biological child, was born in Suva, Fiji, in 1943.8 In 1952, while living in Christchurch, New Zealand, they adopted David who had been born in 1946.9 Shortly after they arrived in the United States in 1965, they took in two foster children–Donald (born in 1961) and Robert (born in 1962)–biological brothers whom they later adopted.10

Gifford’s initial denominational appointment was as a teacher at Longburn College, where prior to his graduation, he taught part-time.11 After graduation in 1938, he taught at Longburn full time until 1942, when the Gifford accepted an invitation to teach at Fulton College in Fiji.12 During those years, Jean Gifford taught at a small one-teacher school for expatriate children in Korovou, a few miles from Fulton College. World War II was raging in the Pacific at the time and building supplies were very hard to acquire. Gifford sought and received permission from military authorities to use the wood from the army barracks that had been used to house the now-departed troops. Permission received, Gifford took a crew of young men down to Suva to dismantle the barracks and use the timber at Fulton.13

In 1947, the family returned back to Australia where Gifford studied at Avondale College for one year, graduating from the teacher training course in 1948.14 He accepted an appointment to teach at Papanui Central Seventh-day Adventist School in Christchurch, New Zealand. While teaching during the day, Gifford attended Canterbury University in the evenings.15

At the beginning of 1952, following three years of teaching in South New Zealand, Gifford was called back to Fiji to be secretary and youth director of the West Fiji Mission based at Suvavou, Suva.16 Jean Gifford also worked in the West Fiji Mission office.17 While working in Suva, Gifford met Graeme Miller, who at the time was president of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Mission (Kiribati & Tuvalu today), when Miller sailed the mission ship Fetu-Ao to Suva to get additional supplies. Before Miller left, the Fetu-Ao developed engine problems. Gifford offered to fix the engine in order to save the mission money. They completely rebuilt the engine and as they worked together, Miller talked to Gifford about the needs of the mission and asked him if he would consider a call to the Gilberts to begin a boarding school on the island of Abemama. Gifford was willing and Miller initiated the formal call through the Australasian Union. A report by the union president, G. Branster, stated that Frank and Jean Gifford volunteered to go to the Gilbert Islands.18

The Giffords arrived at Abemama in early 1953, read to start constructing the new school’s buildings. Knowing that the main purpose of the school was to educate students to return to their islands as Bible workers, Gifford felt the work would be stronger both young men and young women received education. Consequently, he suggested that the boarding school be co-educational.19 Miller agreed. The new school, Kauma, opened on July 12, 1953.20

Kauma Adventist School was very isolated. Mail arrived only three or four times a year when a copra ship called into the island. Occasionally, the Giffords would travel on the Fetu-Ao to the main island of Tarawa to pick up supplies. On the way, they would visit other islands encouraging students to attend the new school.21 Once the dormitories were built and the deans hired, Miller and Gifford visited these islands to pick up young people who had decided to attend the school.

The isolation also made times of sickness very challenging. An outbreak of amoebic dysentery almost cost Gifford his life. Close to death, he was carried on a stretcher made out of a door to a copra boat anchored in the mouth of the lagoon. The captain took him and the family aboard and transported them to Tarawa where Gifford was able to receive necessary medical attention.22

Jean Gifford operated a small clinic for the village people, and taught some home economic and business classes as well. One day a mother brought her baby to the clinic. Jean Gifford looked at the tiny, wrinkled little mite and, despite having very limited medical knowledge herself, could see the baby was terribly dehydrated. Lacking the necessary medical supplies, she improvised, boiling some water, adding a little glucose, and encouraging the mother to feed the baby as much liquid as it would drink. The following morning when she looked outside, there was a long line of mothers holding their babies and waiting for the clinic to open. Puzzled Jean Gifford went out to see what had brought so many to the clinic. Evidently as the poor little dehydrated baby drank, and its little body absorbed the water, the wrinkles began to disappear—giving the appearance of getting “fatter,” These mothers wanted some of the “miracle water” for their babies too. Jean Gifford had to explain it was not miracle water. Disappointed, they returned to their villages.23

Although the Giffords intended to stay in Abemama for only a year, they remained for 18 months. A few months after they arrived in Abemama, the Fetu-Ao had returned to Suva Harbor where a tidal wave struck the port bow of the boat and it was badly damaged. It was six months before the boat could be repaired and returned to Abemama. During that time the family, along with all the students and staff, lived on a diet of fish and coconuts. Upon the Giffords return to Sydney in 1954, the denomination required a thorough physical examination for each family member. They all passed with flying colors, a fact they attributed to God’s watch care over them.24

Following a brief three-month furlough, Gifford was appointed youth and Sabbath School director of the North Queensland Conference, a position he held from 1955 to 1959.25 During this time Jean Gifford worked as a secretary in the North Queensland Conference office.26 Frank Gifford was ordained to the gospel ministry in Townsville, North Queensland, on May 10, 1958.27 In 1959, Gifford was appointed youth director of the South Queensland Conference. A position he held from 1959-1962.28 At the end of 1962, Gifford accepted an invitation to be youth director of the Greater Sydney Conference.29 Jean Gifford worked as a secretary in the conference office.30 They held these positions until they moved to the North American Division arriving on May 19, 1964.

Gifford initially took a position as pastor in the Ohio Conference where he pastored the five churches in the Athens District.31 It was while they were in Ohio that they adopted Donald (Bud) and Robert (Bob) Gifford. In 1969, the family transferred to Beeville, Texas, where Gifford worked as the part-time pastor of the Beeville church and full-time chaplain at Beeville Memorial Hospital. Jean Gifford worked at the hospital as secretary for the director of nurses and an accountant in the business office. The family lived in Beeville for four and a half years.32

In 1975, Gifford accepted an invitation to the Georgia-Cumberland Conference to be chaplain of the Greeneville Hospital. Jean Gifford again worked as secretary to the director of nurses. They remained in these positions until their retirement in 1980.33

On their retirement, Frank and Jean Gifford moved to Columbia, Maryland, where their daughter Genia and her husband, Pastor Bryce Pascoe, and two of the Gifford’s sons, Bud and Bob, lived. Following the Pascoe’s move to Spokane, Washington, Frank and Jean Gifford also moved to Spokane to live with their daughter’s family. Later, when the Pascoes moved to Portland, Oregon, in 1995, the Giffords also moved with them. It was in Portland that Frank Gifford died on April 10, 1999.34 Jean Gifford died on August 16, 2003.35

Sources

Appointments and Transfers Made at the Annual Meeting, 1948–Final List.” Australasian Record, January 24, 1949.

Branster, G. “News Items from the Central Pacific.” Australasian Record, April 27, 1953.

Frame, R. R. “Trans-Tasman Union Conference Annual Meetings, 1951.” Australasian Record, February 4, 1952.

Frank William Gifford Biographical Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives.

Frank William Gifford Service Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives.

Gifford, F. W. “Gilbert and Ellice Islands Training School.” Australasian Record, September 21, 1953.

Jean Agnes Gifford Biographical Records. South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives.

Pascoe, Bryce. “Frank Gifford obituary.” Record [South Pacific Division], June 5, 1999.

Pearce, J. T. “Graduation–Fulton Missionary College, 1952.” Australasian Record, January 26, 1953.

“People and Events.” The Australasian Record, September 28, 1964.

Notes

  1. The author acknowledges the assistance of Genia (Gifford) Pascoe, daughter of Frank and Jean Gifford, in compiling this biography.

  2. Frank William Gifford Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Gifford, Frank William,” document: “Biographical Information Blank.”

  3. Ibid.

  4. Ibid.

  5. Frank William Gifford Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Gifford, Frank William,” Document: “Personal Service Record.”

  6. Ibid.

  7. Frank William Gifford Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Gifford, Frank William,” document: “Biographical Information Blank.”

  8. Ibid.

  9. Jean Agnes Gifford Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Gifford, Jean Agnes,” document: “Workers Biographical Record.”

  10. Genia (Gifford) Pascoe, email to author, June 5, 2019; Bryce Pascoe, “Frank Gifford obituary,” Australasian Record, June 5, 1999, 13.

  11. Frank William Gifford Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Gifford, Frank William,” Document: “Personal Service Record.”

  12. Ibid.

  13. Genia (Gifford) Pascoe, email to author, June 5, 2019.

  14. Del Martin, Avondale Academic Office, email to author, June 6, 2019; “Appointments and Transfers Made at the Annual Meeting, 1948 – Final List,” Australasian Record, January 24, 1949, 8.

  15. Frank William Gifford Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Gifford, Frank William,” Document: “Personal Service Record.”

  16. Ibid., R. R. Frame, “Trans-Tasman Union Conference Annual Meetings, 1951,” Australasian Record, February 4, 1952, 5; J. T. Pearce, “Graduation–Fulton Missionary College, 1952,” Australasian Record, January 26, 1953, 4.

  17. Jean Agnes Gifford Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Gifford, Jean Agnes,” Document: “Jean Gifford to the Secretary, Australasian Division.”

  18. G. Branster, “News Items from the Central Pacific,” Australasian Record, April 27, 1953, 8.

  19. Genia (Gifford) Pascoe, email to author, June 5, 2019.

  20. F. W. Gifford, “Gilbert and Ellice Islands Training School,” Australasian Record, September 21, 1953, 7.

  21. Genia (Gifford) Pascoe, email to author, June 5, 2019.

  22. Ibid.

  23. Ibid.

  24. Ibid.

  25. Frank William Gifford Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Gifford, Frank William,” document: “Personal Service Record.”

  26. Jean Agnes Gifford Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: ‘Gifford, Jean Agnes,” document: “Jean Gifford to the Secretary, Australasian Division.”

  27. Frank William Gifford Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Gifford, Frank William,” document: “Personal Service Record.”

  28. Ibid.

  29. Ibid.

  30. Jean Agnes Gifford Biographical Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Gifford, Jean Agnes,” document: “Jean Gifford to the Secretary, Australasian Division.”

  31. “People and Events,” The Australasian Record, September 28, 1964, 16.

  32. Frank William Gifford Service Records, South Pacific Division of the General Conference Archives, folder: “Gifford, Frank William,” document: “Personal Service Record.”

  33. Genia (Gifford) Pascoe, email to author, June 5, 2019

  34. Bryce Pascoe, “Frank Gifford obituary,” Record [South Pacific Division], June 5, 1999, 13.

  35. Genia (Gifford) Pascoe, email to author, June 5, 2019.

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Devine, Lester. "Gifford, Frank William (1915–1999) and Jean Agnes (Stewart) (1916–2003)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Accessed October 15, 2021. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=B7WI.

Devine, Lester. "Gifford, Frank William (1915–1999) and Jean Agnes (Stewart) (1916–2003)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. January 09, 2021. Date of access October 15, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=B7WI.

Devine, Lester (2021, January 09). Gifford, Frank William (1915–1999) and Jean Agnes (Stewart) (1916–2003). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved October 15, 2021, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=B7WI.