Dr. Gene Williams started ministering at an age before many people even have a glimpse of what they want to do with their lives.
And he kept on ministering for about half a century.
The longtime senior pastor at the First Church of the Nazarene in Wichita, Dr. Williams died Sunday. He was 81.
“From the time he was a freshman in college, he was pastoring at different churches,” his wife, Joyce, said.
Born Richard Eugene Williams in Nashville, Tenn., Dr. Williams graduated in 1953 from Trevecca Nazarene University, where he met his first wife, Bettye, to whom he was married until she died in 1991. He served as a pastor for the Church of the Nazarene for 47 years, enrolling at Nazarene Theological Seminary after graduation.
He first served in Sebring, Fla., and then started a church in Gainesville, Fla. He served as pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Princeton, Fla., for 10 years.
Dr. Williams in 1971 became pastor of Wichita’s First Church of the Nazarene, where he worked until he retired in January 1998.
His second wife, Joyce, said her husband never really retired, though.
“We traveled over 900,000 miles and went to 39 countries” ministering to people across the world, she said.
The Williamses started Shepherds’ Fold Ministries and worked with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
“He had a marvelous ministry working with that group,” Joyce Williams said. “As recently as December we went to Belize.”
Dr. Williams served as a member of the Nazarene General Board, the Nazarene Theological Seminary Board and the Nazarene Bible College Board. He served on the board of Mid-America Nazarene University for 25 years.
Dr. Williams also wrote 16 books.
He loved being outdoors, his wife said.
“He was very much an outdoors person. He loved all kinds of sports. He used to run every day and enjoyed tennis and racquetball. He liked to fish and hunt. There was nothing that he didn’t enjoy doing.”
She said his interests and talents were many.
Ron Ryan, former chairman of Ryan International Airlines, said he knew Dr. Williams for 30 years.
“We met years ago when I was dating my wife,” he said. “We went to his church one Sunday, and his sermon was how churches tend to shoot their wounded. We thought, ‘Hey, he might be talking to us.’ We had both gone through troubling divorces.”
Dr. Williams married Ryan and his wife, and “we became good friends over the years. We remained good friends up to the end. Gene was just a unique man of God.”
Ryan said he traveled several times to Israel with Dr. Williams and fished and hunted with him.
“We lost a really, really great guy,” Ryan said.
Tim Buchanan, another friend of Dr. Williams, had known him for 32 years through church.
Buchanan described Dr. Williams has a great leader who was the “eternal positive-minded person.”
“Gene always mentored people around him and developed good leaders around him, whether it be at the church or the Shepherds’ Fold Ministries. I’ll always remember Gene for thinking big,” Buchanan said.
In addition to his wife, Dr. Williams is survived by daughter Laurel Davidson; sons Rick, Steve, Brent and Pat; stepdaughters Tami McWhorter and Bethany King; brother Leon Williams; and sisters Elizabeth Rogers and Joyce Cavender. He also is survived by 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Davidson said that her father’s great accomplishment “was being such an incredible example of what a godly man is. He always let us know that serving God was a privilege, not a responsibility.”
Services are at 10 a.m. Saturday at First Church of the Nazarene.