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September 9, 2009 > Reverend Lee Williamson

Reverend Lee Williamson

January 9, 1939 - July 29, 2009

Memorial Service Saturday, September 12, 2009 at 11 a.m. in the Sanctuary of First United Methodist Church, 1183 B Street, Hayward.

Lee Williamson, prominent United Methodist Pastor and crusader for peace and social justice, died at his Hayward home early on the morning of Wednesday, July 29. He was 70 years old. Family and friends will celebrate his life and work at a memorial service on Saturday, September 12.

Rev. Williamson was well-known throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and in progressive circles for his commitment and leadership in support of a wide variety of concerns, including helping the homeless and feeding the hungry, advocating for the right of gays and lesbians to full inclusion in church and society, protesting the development of nuclear weapons at Livermore Nuclear Weapons Laboratory and other locations, and traveling in solidarity to countries such as El Salvador, Haiti and the Philippines to protest violence and injustice and promote human rights. He also demonstrated yearly to close the School of Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. In 2004, he retired from the ministry after 25 years' service and was honored by the entire Hayward community with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the city's annual volunteer recognition event.

Born in Stratford, Oklahoma, on January 9, 1939, he was the youngest of eleven children of sharecropper parents. After completing high school in 1957, he spent one year at a local college in Ada, Oklahoma, then joined the Army and was stationed in Germany for three years. When Lee returned home in 1962, he moved to California, where two of his sisters lived.

He married Arlene Richardson on July 1, 1966. Shortly thereafter Lee returned to school at Cal State Fullerton, gaining his Bachelor of Arts with a major in Mathematics in 1969. While working for General Dynamics, San Diego, Lee became increasingly uncomfortable building F-57 fighter planes. When an opportunity arose to relocate to Charlottesville, Virginia to work at a subsidiary plant making telephones, Lee and Arlene made the move with the two children who were now part of their family.

In 1975, Lee and Arlene decided to return to California and look for a new direction. After receiving a call to the ministry, Lee began studying at the Pacific School of Religion in 1976 and graduated with a Master of Divinity degree in 1979. He was ordained a Deacon in 1979 and an Elder in full connection with the California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in 1980. After serving at a number of United Methodist churches in the Bay Area, Lee spent the final 11 years of his professional career as pastor of South Hayward (formerly Wesley) United Methodist Church, Hayward.

Rev. Williamson encouraged his parishioners to nurture one another and reach out to assist programs already developed by other organizations such as the Coalition for Affordable Housing, Family Emergency Shelter Coalition (FESCO), the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Program, and the Afghan and International Refugee Support Services. He supported South Hayward Parish efforts to build a community garden and organize food distribution programs, participated in No Room for Racism vigils, and prayer services where children had been killed in Alameda County.

He was also active in the Hayward Demos Democratic Club and, in his own words, was the "token straight" member of the board of directors of Gays and Lesbians Organized for Betterment and Equality (GLOBE). In 2008, GLOBE honored him with the Pryor Conrad Service Award for outstanding service to the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/questioning community.

In trying to discern God's will, Lee took to heart the message found in 2 Timothy 1:7:
"God does not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love and self-discipline."

The courage of his convictions enabled Lee to engage in non-violent acts of civil disobedience for which he was arrested on multiple occasions. Although his actions were not always appreciated by some members of the church's governing body, he was honored by several groups within the church. In 1992, he was awarded the Bishop Leontine Kelly Peace and Justice Award by the Methodist Federation for Social Action; he was a two-time recipient of the Turtle award by the Annual Conference Committee on Reconciliation for "sticking his neck out" and awarded the Bishop Melvin G. Talbert award for Racial Justice by the Annual Conference Commission on Religion and Race in 2009. His wife Arlene noted that Lee never sought recognition for himself but was motivated by a sense of compassion that drove him to care about the whole of creation and the suffering within it. He did what he could to eliminate that suffering and to encourage others to do the same.

Rev. Williamson was predeceased by his parents, Walter Ellis Williamson and Esther Dorcas Beasley Williamson of Stratford, Oklahoma. He is survived by his wife, Arlene; a daughter, V.J. Williamson and spouse Cary Sofye of Concord; a son, Roy Williamson and his spouse Colleen of Oroville; three grandchildren, Rachael, Christina and Kara; mother-in-law Ruth Richardson of Stayton, Oregon and her sons and oldest daughter; four siblings, and numerous nieces and nephews.

The memorial service, an informal celebration and thanksgiving for Lee's life, will take place on Saturday, September 12 at 11 a.m. in the Sanctuary of First United Methodist Church, 1183 B Street, Hayward. Immediately following the service, a potluck reception will be held in the church backyard where everyone will have an opportunity to share memories of Lee at an open mic.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Lee's honor to be made to the following organizations he supported:

* South Hayward Parish Food Program: c/o the Food Program, 2024 Patrick Ave., Hayward CA 94544.
* Stepping Stones Growth Center: 311 MacArthur Blvd., San Leandro, CA 94577.
* Lavender Seniors: 1395 Bancroft Ave., San Leandro, CA 94577.
* Ecumenical Peace Institute: PO Box 9334, Berkeley, CA 94709-0334.
* Methodist Federation for Social Action: c/o Dean Coons, 3960 N. Pardale Dr., Lafayette, CA 94549.

Additional information is available at www.PastorLee.net and http://paceebene.org/blog/kenbutigan/remembering-lee-williamson.

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