|“You don’t know Willie? Well, when you meet him his hair may be a little messed up and his tie crooked, but that’s Willie and you’ll learn to love him just the way he is.” Luther Booth told me that my first year out of seminary before I had met Willie Poole. Willie had just been appointed to Munholland, which was not far from my own appointment. Luther was right on all counts. Willie was an easy person to love, because he, himself, loved with such ease. He was a child of the Louisiana Conference. Born in Franklinton on August 4, 1901, he was laid to rest there 85 years later, January 29, 1987. After his undergraduate work at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, Willie received his theological training at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. While there he was part of a circle of close friends. Though they went to various parts of the country to serve after seminary, they maintained a spirited and intentional correspondence. They kept their friendship alive and vital.
That typifies one of my fondest characterizations of Willie Poole. He “kept in touch.” He went out of his way to know about his relatives, friends, colleagues, their families and what was important to them. It is what endeared him to the eleven appointments he served in our conference. Without knowing it, and surely without being pretentious enough to plan it, he was a mentor to many of us. When the churches of Louisiana, and the Conference itself, were struggling to find a way to be responsible Christians in the face of the racial turmoil of the 50’s and 60’s, Willie was a model to us. Without knowing it, he showed us how to be loving, and even gentle, in places where inclusive love was a risk.
For someone so unassuming and non-competitive, Willie spent a good deal of time in trouble, but it was usually “good” trouble. He was in a particularly long and difficult hassle trying to convince the “shakers and movers” of his district to buy Camp Istrouma. Even some of his best friends thought it was bad timing, impractical, too expensive. Literally, one by one, he won them over. In the end, there wasn’t mutual agreement, but there was mutual concern. We know now that it worked out right.
He was the Baton Rouge District Superintendent through a significant part of that time (1957-63) and on more than one occasion he would show up in one of his preachers’ congregations on Sunday morning after there had been a difficult time on the race issue the week before. He would just be there. We all knew what that meant. He was the best District Superintendent I have ever had, truly a pastor’s pastor. It is quite accomplishment even if only one person thinks you are the best at what is perhaps the most difficult job in which to excel that the church has to offer. Many of us have tried to make ourselves a part of Willie’s family and he, along with Helen first and then Trudy, would always let us. And his sons would, too, as well as their wives and children and Trudy’s children, who truly became Willie’s, and their children. He loved with such ease that it has been easy for everyone around him to love, also.
Willie and Helen, who married in 1928, had three sons, James, Dan, and Franklin. James and Franklin are ministers, members of the Louisiana Conference. Dan, his namesake, is a teacher. They were all born in New Orleans, when Willie was serving the Gretna church. There are eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Helen died in 1965.
In 1968 Willie married Trudy. Her husband had died when her four children were so young that Willie became the only father they really knew. They are Robert, William, James and Sandra Wood. And there are three more grandchildren.
Trudy said recently, “He died as he lived, a gentle and peaceful death. He always felt like he was needed and he WAS. The older people he visited these last few years really miss him.” I know why. I was with him one day when he visited someone ill in the hospital. Before we left, Willie took the man’s hand and prayed, “May this time apart not seem like time lost or time wasted, but rather may it be a time when we can meditate again on the value of life and the sacredness of each moment.” I remember that.
|Source: Journal Louisiana Conference, 1987; p. 321-322 By John Winn|