Posted on: August 26, 2022
Alastair Nixon Guthrie was born January 12, 1929 in Hope Arkansas to John McLeod Guthrie and Harriet Nixon Guthrie. His birth was also greeted by his older brother, Jack. The family struggled during the Great Depression eventually moving to Portsmouth, Virginia where Al and Jack attended Woodrow Wilson High School. Al lettered in football and graduated valedictorian of his class. Al then entered Davidson College where he made many friends, including his lifelong friend Bob Patten. Bob and Al shared common passions: Christianity and medicine.
Al decided to combine these interests and dedicated himself to becoming a medical missionary. He always rooted for the underdog in sports and had endless sympathy for those who suffered or were persecuted. Through family connections in Duluth, Minnesota, Al worked as a pirate on the Great Lakes during the summers to help put himself through college. During his final year of medical school, at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Al met, Roberta Shephard McCrary, a bright and talented nursing student. They were married that June and moved to Oklahoma City where a year later they welcomed their first son, Stephen Alexander. When Al completed his internship, the doctors’ draft sent the young family to Germany where Bruce Hilton was born and Katharine Nixon conceived. From Germany, Al enlisted in a domestic mission and the family moved to Harlan, Kentucky, just long enough for Kath’s birth and for Al to decide not to pursue a career in surgery. He did, however, continue as a missionary to bring medical care to underserved rural areas, such as Floyd, Virginia, where David Morrow was born.
From there the family moved to the Wild West of Embudo, New Mexico; land of Gila monsters, coyotes, and cacti. The older boys began school, Roberta studied art with Arthur Hall, and Al was busy working as one of only two physicians in the area. In the summer of 1963 the family settled in rural New Jersey in an area near the town of Milford on the Delaware River. Following a profound healing experience with the help of a psychiatrist, Al committed himself to the field in which he had long held interest and began a psychiatric residency at the Princeton Neuropsychiatric Institute. Roberta helped to support Al and the family by applying her extensive skills in the field of fashion—designing, drafting, and building clothing for New York runways.
The summer before Al’s final year of residency, the family had rich adventures in Newfoundland and Labrador. In his pursuit of missionary service, Al had come upon the International Grenfell Mission and volunteered his services for a few weeks. The IGA was established by Wilfred Grenfell in the early 1900’s with a small group of dedicated British doctors and nurses and grew into an international mission serving a 300 mile radius around St. Anthony, Newfoundland. That summer Al and his family were blessed to board the Strathcona, a modest hospital ship, that traveled the coasts of northern Newfoundland and southern Labrador, bringing medical services to native summer-villages and other isolated ports.
Inspired by the summer adventures and the opportunity to bring psychiatric services to the region, Al and his family moved to St. Anthony and learned to thrive through the long harsh winters. Northern lights, colorful locals, international neighbors, and a welcoming church helped to buoy the family during the three years they lived in the harbor town. From the far north, the family moved south to Jonesboro, Arkansas where Al accepted a position in a state psychiatric facility. The first summer in Jonesboro, in 1972, Al had a profound spiritual experience and was led by the Holy Spirit to further merge his Christian faith with his medical practice by praying with his patients. It took a great deal of courage and conviction to stay the course in the face of dismissal from the state hospital, but with Roberta’s support and a community of dedicated Christians, Al began a private practice. For several years, Al and Roberta served communities in northeast Arkansas. Alabama became home when Al was invited to join a Christian psychiatric group in Birmingham. Although the group was not a good fit, Al and Roberta found deep and lasting fellowship in Briarwood Presbyterian Church. With fellow dedicated church members, Al and Roberta taught weekly literacy classes in prisons. Al also continued a jail ministry he began in Arkansas. He gave generously, not only of his time but his financial resources, to his church and to several missions that brought the gospel to many parts of the world.
Al enjoyed singing and —inspired by Frank Sinatra and Perry Como—playfully sang romantic songs to Roberta. He prayed daily. And he prayed happily with and for others at every opportunity. A devoted son, Al wrote his parents a letter each week. He said that he loved all of us and looked forward to being with us in Paradise. Al passed from this world peacefully in his sleep Monday morning, February 3, 2020. His gentle heart and easy laugh will be missed.