Pastors' Memoirs

Leighton Ernest Harrell Jr., 1923 – 2011

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Leighton Ernest Harrell Jr. was born on February 5, 1923, in Richmond, to the late Rev. Leighton E. Harrell Sr. (Ret. Col., US Army) and Gertrude C. Harrell. The family moved several times during his childhood as his father served churches in the Virginia Methodist Conference and as Chaplain at the CCC camps in the Shenandoah Valley.

Leighton Jr. graduated from Andrew Lewis High School in Salem. After high school, he started as a freshman at University of San Antonio, to be near his family at the base where his father was stationed as an Army Chaplain. Following his father’s transfer to the Washington D.C. area, Leighton transferred to and earned his B.A. from the University of Maryland, College Park. He then earned a Master of Divinity from Duke University. 

One of his first churches was in New Castle as a part of circuit appointment. During his time in southwest Virginia, he also worked with the Wesley Foundation at Virginia Tech. His last church in the Virginia Conference was in Herndon. From there, he joined the U.S. Army as a chaplain in 1950. He served in Korea during the conflict, describing his arrival in Korea on a blustery day in February as one of the coldest days of his life. He was then stationed in Germany for several years.After leaving the Army in the late 1950s, he worked toward a Ph.D. in Marriage & Family Counseling from Michigan State University. During his time at MSU, he served as a supply minister for several churches in Michigan. He then taught psychology and counseling at Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Indiana, Penn. and Eastern Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. In the 1960s and early 1970s, he worked as a counselor for the Veterans Administration in Salisbury, N.C. and Perry Point, Md. While working for the Veterans Administration, he taught as an adjunct professor at Rowan-Cabarras Community College in N.C. and Harford Community College in Maryland.In the late 1970s, he served at Gatch Memorial United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Md. as associate pastor, while running a private marriage and family counseling practice.He was also very active in multiple Masonic organizations in Maryland, holding the position of National Chaplain for the Sojourners in the early 1980s.

In the mid-1980s, he started a finance company, which he continued to operate until 2007. During this time, he occasionally served as visiting minister for churches whose ministers were on vacation or attending conference. After moving back to Roanoke Valley in 2008, he began attending Grace United Methodist Church in Roanoke. It was here that he returned to preaching on a regular basis, as a Pastor Emeritus, assisting the Rev. Dick Jones.

He was active in the Roanoke VFW chapter, acting as chaplain at various events.Throughout the years, no matter where he lived, he was an avid sports fan and enjoyed playing golf. His favorite teams included the Duke Blue Devils, Maryland Terrapins, Baltimore Orioles, Baltimore Ravens, and the former Baltimore Colts (before they left Baltimore). Upon moving to Roanoke, he enjoyed attending Salem Red Sox games. A lover of music as well, he attended the Baltimore Symphony frequently during his time in Maryland and the Roanoke Symphony Orchestra Pops series after moving to Roanoke. He was also a skilled bridge player, having been taught by a friend in the Army while stationed in Germany.

Leighton preached his last sermon on Easter Sunday in April 2011. He passed away on Tuesday, June 14, 2011, at Roanoke Memorial Hospital. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by a brother, William Guy Harrell. Survivors include his daughters, Leigh M. (Harrell) Williams and her husband, Rob, and Lindy E. Harrell; and brothers, Stanley G. Harrell and wife, Lucy, and Earl S. Harrell and wife, Kitty.

- Leigh (Harrell) Williams


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