News Archives

United Methodist Bishop W.T. Handy Jr. dead at 74

4/13/1998 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

NOTE: A photograph is available with this story.

by United Methodist News Service

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- United Methodist Bishop W.T. Handy Jr., 74, died Easter Sunday, April 12, of a heart attack. The former leader of the church's Missouri Area had just attended worship services at Clark Memorial United Methodist Church here.

A native of Louisiana, where he served as pastor and district superintendent, Handy was the first black to be named to a top-ranking executive position at the United Methodist Publishing House here. He was elected a bishop in 1980 and retired in 1992. In recent years, he had provided pastoral care for employees at the Publishing House.

The bishop was "a great servant of the church and a great personal friend," said John E. Procter, who was president at the Publishing House when Handy was named vice president.

"It is a great loss to the church and to me personally. I don't think we have had a more dedicated individual that I have known in my lifetime. He will be missed by the church and the community."

Before Procter's election as president, the Publishing House had been severely criticized for the low representation of blacks on its staff, particularly in executive positions. Under Handy's leadership, the organization achieved equitable racial quotas throughout its operation.

"W.T. was instrumental in helping us over the rough spots," Procter said. "I owe him a great debt."

Handy was born March 26, 1924, in New Orleans. During World War II, while attending Tuskegee (Ala.) University, he was drafted into the Army and served three years before being discharged in 1946. He earned his B.A. degree from Dillard University in New Orleans in 1948 and continued his education at Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta and Boston School of Theology. He received several honorary degrees.

On behalf of the Council of Bishops, Handy helped develop "In Defense of Creation," a churchwide initiative on nuclear disarmament, launched in 1986. He also served on a committee that developed a new United Methodist Hymnal, released in 1989.

He was ordained in 1950 and became a member of the Louisiana Conference of the former Central Jurisdiction, a geographic unit for black members. He served 25 years as a member of his conference's Board of Ordained Ministry -- 20 of those as chairperson.

Handy was a pastor in Alexandria and Baton Rouge before joining the staff of the United Methodist Publishing House in 1968. He began as a publishing representative and then became vice president for personnel services. In 1978, he served as a district superintendent in the Louisiana Annual Conference before being elected bishop.

Handy was a member of several churchwide organizations. He was a delegate to the General Conference -- the top legislative body of the church - from 1964 to 1980, including the 1968 conference, which united the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church.

He also served as trustee to several academic institutions and was president of the board of trustees for Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo.; Gammon Theological Seminary; and the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.

Handy is survived by his wife, Ruth Odessa Robinson Handy; three children: Dorothy Denise Davis of Franklin, Tenn., and Stephen Emanuel Handy and Mercedes Ruth Cowley, both of Nashville; and six grandchildren.

Memorial services will be at 2 p.m. April 15 at West End United Methodist Church here and at 11 a.m. April 18 at the Dillard University Chapel in New Orleans. The body will be donated to United Methodist-related Meharry Medical College here.

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