Walter Leonard Pearson Jr., 74, was born November 11, 1945, in Mobile, Alabama, to the late Walter Leonard Pearson Sr. and Bernice Davis Pearson. His brother, Edward Luther, was born 18 months later. His mother was a church school educator, and his father was a contractor. In the rural South in the mid-1940s, Church school teachers were making less than minimum wage, working long hours, and teaching several grade levels. His mother was a dedicated educator, but it brought little compensation. His father, although an excellent craftsman, found it difficult to earn consistent wages because of his color and the racist system that undercut his bidding for jobs. As a result, the Pearson family moved often to find ways to support and protect their boys.
Pearson would often confess in his sermons that, if the demographers had their way, they would have said that two little Black boys growing up in the projects in South America, which is what he called Mobile, would have little or no chance of success. But, God had another plan. The family settled in Savannah, Georgia, which brought opportunities only the Lord could have inspired. His mother again worked as a church school teacher, his father traveled as a part-time colporteur to make ends meet, and money was scraped together to send the boys to Pine Forge Academy in Pine Forge, Pennsylvania. Although Pearson’s family was very poor and the years at Pine Forge Academy were very lean, his matriculation at Pine Forge proved that Adventist Christian education pays off. Pearson graduated and then went off to Oakwood College (now Oakwood University) in Huntsville, Alabama.
While at Oakwood, Pearson’s leadership skills were recognized and developed. He admits that he sometimes went against the grain and got in trouble because of it. Under the presidency of the late Frank Hale Jr., Ph.D., Pearson became president of the United Student Movement (student government of Oakwood). Hale, in his book, Angels Watching Over Me, described him as “a young man divinely endowed and superbly equipped with talents that would carry him far. One could predict his future fortune because of his eagerness, his sense of purpose, his ability to articulate his goals, and because of his dynamic personality that was always bubbling over with a sense of enthusiasm.” Pearson graduated from Oakwood with a degree in religion and theology.
In 1967, he married the former Sandra L. Holland, shortly after their graduation from Oakwood, and they pledged to blend their gifts and talents to win souls for the Kingdom of Heaven. He later engaged in graduate studies at the University of Kentucky and Georgia State University.
Pearson entered the Adventist ministry in 1969 as an associate pastor of the Glenville Church in Cleveland, Ohio. He was blessed to be a protege of the late Harold L. Cleveland Sr., who was the senior pastor of Glenville. Pearson was ordained in 1971 at the Allegheny West Conference Camp Meeting, and his next assignment took him to northwestern Virginia as a district pastor serving Charlottesville, Gordonsville, and Staunton. Here, Pearson conducted his first solo evangelistic effort which exposed him to the joyous challenge of soul-winning. The Conference committee then voted to send him to Dayton, Ohio. The membership in Dayton increased significantly as his gift for soul-winning blossomed.
From the start of his ministry, Pearson demonstrated an affinity for young people. His youthful charisma and God-given ability to communicate with young people and get them involved in every facet of Church ministries was noticed, and he was asked to be youth director and director of urban ministries for Allegheny West Conference.
Under the mentorship of Harold L. Cleveland and the influence of extraordinary local preachers, Pearson’s preaching gift and ability to make the Word of God live in the minds of his audience was enhanced. Becoming active in the local ministerial alliance, he was invited to preach in area Adventist churches as well as various churches of other denominations.
In the mid-1970s, Pearson accepted a call from the Allegheny East Conference to serve as senior pastor of the North Philadelphia Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Within the five years he served this congregation, the church had more than 1,500 members and was the second largest congregation in the conference. He was also executive director/speaker for the television program “Daybreak” in Philadelphia.
In 1985, he accepted an invitation from the South Atlantic Conference to serve as the senior pastor of the 2,100-member Berean Church in Atlanta, Georgia. During his eight years in Atlanta, Pearson was a member of the Executive Board of Mayor Maynard H. Jackson’s Atlanta Religious Mobilization Against Crime (ARMAC), and a volunteer chaplain for two law enforcement agencies. Pearson participated in services at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta for the first national celebration of the late Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 1986. His benediction, delivered as that congregation of notables sang “We Shall Overcome,” was aired on national and international news broadcasts for days. On three separate occasions, in two local conferences, he was designated “Pastor of the Year” by his peers. In 1991, he became the first Seventh-day Adventist member of the Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers and Collegium of Scholars at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2005, he received a “Legacy of the Dreamer Award” from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He received more than 100 other awards from religious, academic, civic, and community organizations; and four honorary doctorate degrees.
Pearson came to the Church’s World Headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, to join the Ellen G. White Estates. where he was the first African-American to serve as an associate director. Next, he was invited to serve as director for evangelism and church growth for the General Conference Ministerial Association. While in this capacity, Pearson received the invitation to become speaker/director of the Breath of Life Television Ministries, while concurrently serving as a general field secretary for the North American Division (NAD).
He conducted successful evangelistic crusades annually at home, as well as others in Kingston, Jamaica; Tema, Ghana; Warsaw, Poland; Nairobi, Kenya; and three in London, England. His zeal to communicate the Gospel took him to 67 countries on six continents and the island nations of the sea. The Lord honored his faith with more than 25,000 baptisms, including more than 5,000 baptisms in one day at the end of “NET 2004,” a satellite evangelistic initiative sponsored by the NAD.
Pearson survived a stroke in 2006. For 42 years he and Sandra served together to wins souls, until her death in 2009. After his stroke and Sandra’s passing, Pearson asked that a search be initiated for a new speaker/director.
Eventually, God guided Pearson to Patricia Patterson, an educational administrator who had also experienced the loss of her spouse. Patricia repeatedly encouraged Pearson to “get back to work.” They were married in 2011, and together they commenced work for the salvation of lost souls.
Pearson retired from active pastoral ministry in June 2016, after serving as pastor of the Beacon Light Church in Annapolis, Maryland, and he and Patricia moved to Jonesboro, Georgia.
Early Sunday morning, June 7, 2020, after nightly routines, prayer, and “I love you’s” were tenderly exchanged, Patricia told Walter she would stay with him until he fell asleep. Ten minutes later, upon checking on him, he had fallen into a sleep that Jesus Himself would awaken him from. He now awaits the trump and voice of the Lord awakening him into eternal life. What a day of rejoicing that will be!
He is survived by his wife, Patricia; their blended families of three adult children, Ericca, Walter III, and Mia-Liani; five grandsons, Devroux (Cody) Paige Jr., Walter IV (Pierce), Gabriel Alexander, Robert Chester Crawford III (Tre), and Pearson Gault Paige (Diesel); one granddaughter, Caila Serenity Griffith; his brother, Edward Luther Pearson; brother-in-law, Walter L. Daniely; the Holland family; and countless other family and friends.
Southern Union | September 2020