Farewell, Dr. Rambo (1934–2016)

Eighth President of the U.S. C&MA


Peter BurgoThere were many times Dr. David Rambo helped restore the sinus rhythm of my soul when it moved toward flat line. But the most endearing was his stint on our C&MA National Office softball team in the early ’90s. It wasn’t his team prayers before the game; it wasn’t his MVP-caliber performance (although his southpaw, cleanup home runs were nearly legendary in the league). It was simply that he stood so gracefully in two very opposite realms: by day making weighty decisions that would propel the reach of the gospel (like launching the C&MA into Russia after the fall of the Iron Curtain) and by evening donning a softball jersey and playfully calling out an ump over a suddenly shrunken strike zone. We trusted David as a bold, visionary leader and cherished him as one of the guys. To him, the treasure of the gospel was mandatorily global and undeniably personal.

The tributes below reflect both sides of David from several who knew him well and were grateful for the opportunity to illuminate his legacy.

Burgo Signature
Peter Burgo, Editor-in-Chief


We first met David when, as the head of the C&MA’s Overseas Ministries team, he visited us while we were serving at Dalat School in Malaysia. We remember his encouragement to us as we shared the triumphs and challenges of our ministry there.

Years later, while in the States, we heard David preach a message on 1 Peter 5:7. We remember his long arms motioning as though he were casting a fishing rod while he preached, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” We have found ourselves recalling this vivid visual metaphor during stressful times in our life and ministry.

We came to know David more personally over the past few years while living in the same retirement community at Shell Point. He had a keen wit, could weave a story like no one else, and always spoke very fondly and nostalgically of his deep childhood roots in Punkin’ Ridge, Pennsylvania, and “good ol’ Mahaffey Camp.”

Rev. Woody and Mrs. Charlotte Stemple
Retired C&MA International Workers


David L. Rambo had little time for small talk or small ideas. He was the best “big idea” leader I’ve ever known. Whether it was gospel witness in Russia, the strategic relocation of the National Office, or the building of strong indigenous churches overseas, the bigger the idea, the more intense was his focus. I miss him dearly!

Rev. James Davey
Former Vice President, C&MA National Office


David Rambo was a realistic, down-to-earth man with a strong intellect and a passion for God and the proclamation of His gospel. I remember how he enjoyed lightening up the atmosphere in International Ministries (IM) during his early days at the Nyack Headquarters building. Appearing outside his office with an imaginary baseball, and with his lanky limbs cranking in all directions, he would go into an elaborate Major League pitcher’s windup and fire the “ball” down the length of the hallway, much to the amazement of the more reserved office staff. David was always lots of fun.

Then there were times when he arrested people with his sharp mind and intellectual acumen. He was always reading, studying, and learning. I will always be grateful for the time he took with me to explain how important it was to pursue additional educational opportunities that would better equip me to serve the Lord as effectively as possible.

And there was passion-a-plenty in the man. It was under David’s presidential leadership that The Alliance moved into the former Soviet Union. I was serving in IM at the time, and I remember him telling me, with a gleam in his eye, at the beginning of the Christmas break, that he wanted a complete entrance and long-range strategy on his desk by the first of the New Year. He never wanted to waste time once he was convinced of what needed to be done. I thank God for David’s example, friendship, and fellowship in the gospel.

Dr. Peter Nanfelt
Former President, U.S. C&MA


Since first meeting David 30 years ago, I have viewed him as one of the finest men and leaders among us. I will miss him and his influence in my life greatly.

Dr. John Stumbo
President, U.S. C&MA


In 1983, then president of Nyack College David Rambo went with a group of students on a charter bus for a World Missions in Review spring break tour. We drew names out of a hat to choose someone to pray with during the trip. Amazingly, I drew President Rambo’s name and he drew mine, giving us double the time to pray together. For the next seven days we prayed together every day on that tour bus. For the next 30+ years, I would receive a call almost every month and hear that familiar voice, “Walborn, I’m still praying for you. What’s on the list today?” Sometimes he would affectionately refer to me by the nickname he gave me when we played together on a church softball team, “Kamikazee, how are you doing? What are we praying about today?” When I became dean of Alliance Theological Seminary in 2008, the frequency of those phone calls increased. He told me that I needed his prayers more than ever before. I agreed. Over the years Dr. David Rambo was a missionary statesman, denominational president, and college and seminary president and had many other distinguished titles. To me, he was all that and more. He was my prayer partner. Rest in peace, Doc. You have now received your ultimate reward! Love you always. Your prayer partner,

Dr. Ron Walborn
Dean, Alliance Theological Seminary


During one of the more challenging eras in higher education in recent memory, [Dr. Rambo] helped guide this institution through a period of struggle and change, and today we are indebted to him for such remarkable vision. Nyack’s legendary commitment to being “globally engaged” grew stronger under the presidency of David Rambo. He was a strategic thinker and a transformational leader who could genuinely connect with people he encountered—from rural Western Pennsylvania, the place of his birth, to the Philippines, where he and his dear wife, Ruth, served as missionaries for nearly a decade.

In every setting David Rambo consistently demonstrated two things I will always remember and appreciate: a sense of humor that was as dry as it was keen and a laser focus on taking the good news of God’s love to people around the world.

Dr. Michael Scales
President, Nyack College/Alliance Theological Seminary


I first met David Rambo as a young teenager. He towered over me. In my eyes he was a giant! I later went into ministry and got to know him personally, not only as the president, but also as a coworker and friend. We golfed together, played basketball, even a game of tennis. I saw his vision, his leadership, his approachability, his love of God, his love of life, his daily walk with God . . . he really was a giant—a giant of faith. He has left such a wonderful legacy. We are blessed to have known him. He will be missed.

Rev. Scott Slocum
Pastor, Essex (Vermont) Alliance Church
Chairman, Nyack College/Alliance Theological Seminary Board of Trustees


It was my privilege to serve with Dr. David Rambo and count him as a friend. He truly exemplified everything that is good about The Christian and Missionary Alliance. He was passionate about reaching lost humanity. But like A.B. Simpson, David didn’t presume passion alone was sufficient—for himself or for others. He coupled it with academic excellence and encouraged others to follow suit by his example as a lifetime scholar and his leadership in the Christian academic world that included Nyack. I’m confident many of God’s servants serving around the world are more effective because of David’s efforts. I will miss David’s voice in my life. But his influence will continue. And I suspect I am not alone in making that statement! He made Nyack and ATS better. He made Canadian Theological Seminary better. He made Asbury Theological Seminary better. He made The Alliance better. And if you knew him, he made your life better.

Dr. Rockwell Dillaman
Pastor, Allegheny Center Alliance Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Member, Nyack College/Alliance Theological Seminary Board of Trustees


I would imagine that anyone who spent time with David Rambo learned from him. I worked with him when he was president at Alliance Theological Seminary. During those years, I learned many, many things.

One of the most important things I learned from him is the value of asking great questions. He seemed to ask them all the time. He asked me questions about our work at ATS; he asked me questions about my preaching; he asked me questions about my family, and he asked me questions about my heart. Sometimes, his questions were difficult to answer. They reflected the high expectations he maintained for me. But amidst those questions and expectations, I found him to be wise, patient, and gracious. He challenged me, but he also supported me; and as a result, I grew.

Over the years I have come to thank the Lord for David Rambo’s great questions. On occasion, I find myself posing some of his questions to others. I pray I will receive their answers with the same warmth, the graciousness, and the wisdom he had for me.

Rev. Jeff Quinn
Vice President for College Relations
Nyack College/Alliance Theological Seminary


David Rambo was a called and gifted leader. That reality enabled him to lead naturally with a strong emphasis on personal relationships. It did not totally shield him from times when the “mantle” was uncomfortable. He was also a loyal and caring friend which in my case spanned over 60 years. That enabled me to see his love for his wife and family, his hunger to grow in his relationship with God, his ability to ask questions that opened up situations and people, his great desire to be a friend and mentor to younger leaders and to connect with those who did not know his Lord. And of course all of this was liberally laced with his off beat, “Punkin Ridge” sense of humor. I will miss him greatly as will many others in many places.

Rev. Neil Clarke
Retired Alliance Pastor and District Superintendent


Humble servant of God—with a great sense of humor is what comes to my mind when I think of David Rambo. My father (Dr. Wendell Price) and father-in-law (Rev. Robert Reed) both worked with him/for him and thought very highly of him. It was through them I was introduced to this very tall man from Punkin Ridge who loved Jesus and loved the C&MA. He was always approachable and warm, regardless of the position he held. It would have been easy to be intimidated by him, but he was always affirming. I’m grateful for the significant influence he had on my life.

Rev. Mark Price
Pastor, Cody (Wyoming) Missionary Alliance Church


Syria is very much in the news today. My wife and I traveled through Jordan and Syria with Dr. Rambo, his daughter, and Rev. Neil Clarke a few years ago. Dr. Rambo and Neil were taking turns preaching at Arab Alliance churches from Damascus down through southern Syria with Rev. Fariid Khoury, president of the Alliance church of Lebanon and Syria, and then on into Jordan.

Everywhere we went, the Alliance church members were thrilled to meet and to have the president of the U.S. Alliance preach in their church. This was a contrast to the normal Arab travelers who we passed on the way. They were always very serious and taciturn.

They were very glum sitting in a row at the Jordanian passport control. Dr. Rambo stood up in front of them (just a few feet away) like he was preaching to them and said, “OK, nobody smile. Whatever you do: nobody smile.” There was no reaction because no one could understand what he was saying, but had they understood, he would have gotten that smile out of them!

An Alliance worker from a creative-access country

3 responses to Farewell, Dr. Rambo (1934–2016)


    To whomever is reading this I received an email this morning from my former district office that Dr. David Rambo had passed away. And my heart broke.

    I will never understand why but David and Ruth Rambo befriended my wife and me over 30 years ago. Befriending Debbie I understand. But I was a simple minister who did not belong in the same room as he and Ruth. I have just always figured that because Debbie was Paul and Carol Hazlett’s daughter he and Ruth sort of HAD to tolerate me because I came with Debbie. I have cherished their kindness, their correspondence, and their love ever since.

    I saw Dr. Rambo last just over a couple of years ago—at Shell Pointe Village. Debbie and I were thinking possibly of moving there because of the illness with which I have been diagnosed. He kindly took his time to stop at Neal and Carol Clarke’s condominium—in tennis shorts :-) We laughed, reminisced, and enjoyed each other’s company. He then took time to pray for me—something I will never forget. As he left I followed him out [I was still walking with a cane then] and told him what I am about to tell you. I told him that he and Ruth were two of the nicest and best people I had ever known. And, along with Paul Hazlett, Neal Clarke, Maurice Irvin, and two professors from my seminary, he was one of the greatest men of my acquaintance. One of the kindest and best nights of my life was being invited to dinner at the Irvin’s home in Lexington and they also invited the Rambos. Listening to those wise souls and the stories and reflections of that night, I will carry to my grave. David deeply blessed my life and his wisdom I cherished.

    There is a hole now in the universe with which I am familiar. However in God’s realm David is where he has longed to be since 2011. He is reunited with two of the persons who kept his life serene…his beloved Ruth and his Lord Jesus. I will deeply miss him however he dwells now in a place the apostle calls “better by far.”
    I need to add one other thought. Dr. Rambo was a deeply reflective, thoughtful, and caring man. He deeply felt the most poignant questions of our souls. And he was never afraid to question or doubt. After Ruth died I think I understood him better than at an time of our friendship. Dr. David Rambo was a great man and my friend.
    From my heart………….joseph

  2. We became friends when David’s Dad became our pastor of the Hoover Heights C&MA Church in New Castle, PA. His late sister Julia was also our friend. We have kept in contact with David and his late wife Ruth over the years. They have been great friends to us. We have missed Ruth and now will miss David. We know he is with our Lord.

  3. Thank you for these statements about David. He was a great brother also. It seemed each time I talked with him that he had stories stored in his mind to share….some were updates from the Irvona/Pumpkin Ridge community. We shared both much humor but also deep respect for our roots. He had all the gifts for leadership which were enhanced by his refusal to take himself too seriously. A delightful human being; a really “cool” brother. Ruth Rambo-Brown

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