Pastors' Memoirs

William Arthur Winfree, 1920-1993

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William Arthur Winfree, better known as Bill, was born in Florence, Alabama, October 22, 1920, and grew up in the Portsmouth and Norfolk area of Virginia. He first joined a church choir at age 16, anticipating his lifelong love of music. In June 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served 3 1/2 years during World War II, flying 65 missions over Europe. On July 3, 1944, he married Elsie Iverson.

Bill was a graduate of Augustana College, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and attended Duke Divinity School. He was graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1955. He served one year in the South Dakota conference and eight years in the Baltimore conference before coming to the Virginia conference in 1960. For 27 years he served churches in the Virginia conference, retiring in June 1987.

Bill sang all his life; he just "couldn't remember when he couldn't sing!" Wherever he lived, he generously offered his gift of singing, which he truly believed was a gift from God. Beginning in 1956, and continuing through his active ministry, Bill sang an annual Christmas concert, a program he designed from the Methodist Hymnal. He thought there were "so many Christmas hymns that we do not sing in our congregational services.” He introduced to many churches to two particular hymns, “In the Bleak Midwinter” and "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly," which became known as "Bill Winfree's Christmas Hymns" within those congregations.

The power and beauty of the written and spoken word fascinated and intrigued Bill. He did a great amount of writing, some for his own satisfaction, but much of it for his congregations. Drawing on the powerful stories of Scripture, Bill skillfully wrote many "narration-sermons." He performed these imaginative dramatic-monologues in a theatrical atmosphere for Sunday schools and choirs.

Over the last 15 years of his life he enjoyed participating in community theater, doing everything from set building to acting. He performed in several plays at the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center where he was also a featured soloist with FACinations Chorus. During the last two years of his life, he and his wife, Elsie, received great satisfaction in helping to form a new, highly-acclaimed theater company in Lynchburg. In May 1992, they were named "Honorary Parents" of the Cherry Tree Players.

Adventure and flying were great loves of Bill's life, having had his first airplane ride at age 9 and making his first sport parachute jump in 1975, followed by several more. Bill had a great sense of humor and enjoyed life to the fullest. His love of life and appreciation of his fellow man (human) were ever-present in his life. Because he well understood young people, the Winfree home was often the gathering place for young neighbors. Several years he was the chaplain of the local high school football teams. The Winfrees also opened their home to several homeless boys.

In 1974, Bishop Goodson appointed Bill to Randolph Street United Methodist Church in Lexington, an African American congregation. While the expected joint venture with Trinity Church did not materialize, Bill accomplished much in his five years as the church's pastor, later concluding, 'Those were the best five years of my ministry. I became aware of so much that our brothers and sisters of their heritage are living and feeling."

Bill and Elsie's three children, Jack, Cathy, and Mike, all now professionals, and their six grandchildren, are a testament to the love and commitment Bill and Elsie shared for 49 years.

-James M. Tongue



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Background photos courtesy of VDOT.

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