Underwood, Walter Lee


- April 15, 1987
It was mid-morning on Wednesday, April 15th, when the call came. At first, I couldn’t believe it. It was hard to handle, difficult to take in, painful to absorb. Slowly, but surely, the reality took hold. It was true. Bishop Walter Lee Underwood, the resident bishop of Louisiana, had died. The hearts of Louisiana Methodists . . . were saddened and stunned by the loss of this beloved and capable and creative bishop . . . and great churchman.
He had fought so bravely. He had time and again courageously bounced back. We had gotten used to that. We expected that! But this time, the only way healing could come was through death. In his Easter sermon in 1983, he spoke of this
“Sometimes only in dying can we be healed and only in death can we find life again. This is true and trustworthy and properly reflective of our Christian faith. When our bodies are no longer capable of sustaining our great spirits . . . as He always does GOD LOVES US ENOUGH TO HEAL US AND TO GIVE US LIFE THROUGH DEATH. And because Easter is the proof that God has granted us immortality in a life beyond the grave . . . then at the place of death we can say through tears, FAREWELL GOODBYE, AMEN, WE GIVE IT TO GOD, HALLELUJAH!!”
Bishop Walter Lee Underwood . . . death could not take his life away. He gave his life away long ago to God and the church. What a devoted churchman he was!
A native of Tennessee, reared in a Methodist parsonage, the son of Dr. and Mrs. J. E. Underwood (two of the finest leaders ever produced by the Memphis Conference), Bishop Underwood began his preparations for a remarkable ministry early, learning much from the effective ministry of his father. Bishop Underwood studied at the University of Virginia and then at the Perkins School of Theology and was later honored with a doctorate from Texas Wesleyan College.
He had outstanding pastorates in Tennessee and Texas before being elected to the episcopacy in 1984. He served as pastor of First Church, McKenzie, Tennessee and made an outstanding record on the staff of Dallas First Church (where he worked closely with Dr. Robert E. Goodrich, who preceded him into the episcopacy).
Bishop Underwood was pastor of the Waples Memorial Methodist Church in Denison, Texas (1962-66), District Superintendent, Dallas Southwest District (1966-67), Pastor of First United Methodist Church, Wichita Falls (1967-72) and then pastor of First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth 1972-78). He served as Senior Minister of the St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas from 1978 until he was elected a bishop at the Jurisdictional Conference at Lubbock in 1984. He was assigned to the Louisiana Area where he served with great distinction until his death in Methodist Hospital in Houston on April 15, 1987.
Bishop Underwood served on numerous boards of many church institutions, was a noted author, and was often elected delegate to Jurisdictional Conferences, General Conferences and World United Methodist Conferences. He was a world traveler and an eloquent speaker. But most of all, he was a pastor. How he loved the local church. He loved being the shepherd of the flock! He loved the people of Louisiana and felt honored to be their bishop. Most of all he loved it when he was working on matters that would help the local church . . . whether it was starting new Sunday School classes or getting every town and village in Louisiana to have a sign showing how to get to the local United Methodist Church. Whether it was television or evangelism or outreach or stewardship . . . he “thought big” for the church and he wanted it to be done right. He lived his faith daily and he died as he lived . . . with courage and dignity.
He is survived by his devoted wife, Billye; by three sons, Ronald, Donald and Walter II; by a sister and brother-in-law, Imogene and Lloyd V. Ramer; by three grandchildren, Joshua, Asher and Adam . . . and by a host of friends and colleagues.
So, to Bishop Walter Underwood: pastor, churchman, episcopal leader, innovator, author, dreamer, humorist, prophet, man of courage, charisma, dignity, commitment, tireless energy and deep faith. To you, Bishop Underwood, our dear friend, we say through tears . . . Farewell, Goodbye, Amen . . .We give you to God!
Source: Journal Louisiana Conference, 1987; p. 311-312 By James W. Moore

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