|Rev. James L. (Jimmie) Stovall, 83, died peacefully on Friday, May 17, 2002, in Lake Charles of conditions resulting from Alzheimer’s disease. He was a native of Winn Parish, Louisiana, and a graduate of Centenary College in Shreveport. He received his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and was ordained an elder in the Louisiana Conference in 1946. During World War II he served as a Navy Chaplain attached to the U.S. Marine Corps, including service in Nagasaki, Japan. In 1942 he married Alice Mills of Dallas, Texas and together they served congregations in Eunice, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Lafayette, Metairie and Monroe. He was the Executive Director of the Louisiana Interchurch Conference from 1976 to 1991. Jimmie served the community in numerous capacities over the years including service as a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention (1973), chairman of the Governor’s Pardon and Parole study commission (1976), Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs (1979-80), member of the Louisiana Commission on Human Rights (1992), and co-organizer and chairperson of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism (1989-92).
Jimmie was preceded in death by his parents, Dennis Mackey and Louella Gaar Stovall, and by his four brothers, D.M., Karl, John, and Woodrow Stovall and one of his sisters, Velda Stovall Prince, and by his wife, Alice Mills Stovall. He is survived by four of his sisters, Maureen McCanty, Sarah Fouts, Evelyn Finuff and Carlotta Ferguson; by his 3 daughters and sons-in-law: Mary Alice (Richard) and Milo Ballard, Sally (Emerick) and Julio Rodriguez, Carol and Pete Broussard; by his son, James L. Stovall, II; and by his 10 grandchildren; Christopher Richard, Michael Richard, Lora Broussard, Lee Emerick, Rebekah Broussard, Teresa Emerick, Sarah Broussard, Julia Stovall, Maryanna Broussard, and Martin Stovall; and by 3 great-grandchildren.
One day a few years ago, a signboard outside of a church caught my attention. It’s message was, “The best sermons are lived, not preached.” This simple yet profound truth communicates the deep success of the life and ministry of Jimmie Stovall. Although his story cannot be summed up in just a few words, following are some illustrations of the most fundamental qualities of Jimmie Stovall’s “living sermon” as they were reflected in his personal life, in his service to the church and in his community service.
In a letter to his family written several years before his death he made various requests for his funeral. One of his requests was that the Hallelujah Chorus be sung at the conclusion of the service, “as an expression of our faith and love for God and my confidence that God’s kingdom will become a reality in our hearts and in the world.” Jimmie Stovall had a vision that guided all aspects of his life and work, a vision of the coming on earth of God’s kingdom of love and peace and justice.
The seeds of his faith and vision were planted in his family of origin. Although his family had very limited means, struggling through the depression like many other families, his mother and father were warm and loving people involved in the church and community who opened their home and a helping hand to many over the years. When Jimmie felt called to the ministry in his youth, this was a decision that his parents welcomed and because he was one of 10 children they sometimes said that he was their “tithe to the Lord.”
Jimmie Stovall was first and foremost a local church pastor. As a pastor to congregations throughout Louisiana he delivered the good news of God’s love, forgiveness, and hope. He was a pastor that visited people in their homes and in the hospital. He was available at all hours of the day or night to encourage and help parishioners find hope and possibility in times of despair. He firmly believed in the importance of the church in the lives of individuals and families and worked hard each year to bring new members into the church community.
Jimmie Stovall was also dedicated to the ideal of ecumenism, and gave energetic and visionary leadership to the Louisiana Interchurch Conference from 1978 to 1991. He deeply appreciated the opportunity to work with the clergy and lay leadership of the various member denominations. During this period he gave leadership to the project of building an Interfaith Chapel at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, he was co-organizer of the Interchurch Farm Crisis Coalition (1976) and co-organizer of the Greater Baton Rouge Federation of Churches and Synagogues (1987). He believed and helped to demonstrate the power and beauty of the family of God working together to build a better world.
Integral to his ministry and to the realization of his vision was Jimmie Stovall’s involvement in public service. He chose to stand up for people and causes that he believed were worthy even when it wasn’t popular. He has been called one of the most stubborn men that ever walked the face of the earth, and yet it was this unyielding determination that made him a formidable advocate for social justice. During his work with the Louisiana Coalition against Racism and Nazism, he traveled the state “armed with little more than the truth and a moral cause. He talked to everyone who would listen and some who wouldn’t.” Having lived through the horrors of WW II, he was guided by the realization that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men remain silent. His faith and his sense of calling to this work gave him boldness. Even in the face of personal threats he was not intimidated and he refused to worry.
Jimmie Stovall showed keen interest and sincere respect and concern for each person that he met. Unlike the old Peanuts cartoon in which Charlie Brown says, “I love humanity, it’s the people I can’t stand,” Jimmie was a man who loved both humanity and people. In his family he was a devoted husband, father and grandfather. He was a source of support and strength through good times and bad – in our successes and our failures. He made it a point of getting to know his neighbors, visiting them regularly, and facilitating a sense of community within the neighborhood. As he worked on various projects and traveled throughout the state he met and formed relationships with people from all walks of life. He accepted people as they were and sought to bring out the best in them. It has been said that he saw the good in people even when it wasn’t there! He had an undying faith in the human spirit, based on his faith in the redeeming power of the spirit of God in people’s lives.
He was the recipient of numerous awards for his community service including the Human and Civil Rights Award for the National Association of Educators (1992), an award for “Outstanding Service to Humankind” from the Louisiana Chapter of NAACP, the Benjamin Smith Civil Liberties Award from the ACLU of Louisiana. He was also commended recently by the Louisiana House of Representatives for his public service and his outstanding contributions to his congregations and communities and to many civic and public endeavors.
As Alzheimer’s took its toll, it was awesome to observe that there were certain qualities that survived the rest. The power of Jimmie Stovall’s spirit endured even when his mind failed. Long after he lost the ability to think and express himself clearly, my father could still say a beautiful, meaningful and appropriate prayer. There was something more resilient, more fundamental about his communication with God. It appeared to spring not from his intellect, but directly from his heart. Often as we gathered as a family over the years, my father would give thanks to God that we were created in families. At this time, our hearts overflow with gratitude for our family and for our father’s life, which was a faithful expression of love, faith and hope.
In his speech on the occasion of his retirement after 43 years of service in the Methodist Church, Jimmie Stovall said, “I confess that I have lost most of the battles in which I have been involved – but I have never felt defeated or discouraged --- because the gospel is a call to battle whose final victory is already won.”
By Sally Stovall Rodriguez
|Source: Journal Louisiana Conference, 2002|