NASHVILLE, TN—Dr. Ralph Lightsey, who served as a faculty member and administrator at Welch College in the mid-1940s and early 1950s, died September 2, 2012, in Statesboro, Georgia, at age 93. Dr. Lightsey was ordained in 1940 and had a remarkable career as an educator, pastor, and businessman.
The Georgia native joined the Welch College (formerly Free Will Baptist Bible College) faculty in 1945 to fill a vacancy created when World War II ended and Laura Belle Barnard (another Georgia native) returned to India as a missionary. He taught a broad spectrum of courses from English to Personal Evangelism to Pedagogy, and more, in addition to his administrative responsibilities.
The denomination quickly recognized Dr. Lightsey’s skills and potential. At age 26, he was elected to the Welch College Board of Trustees and served 14 years (1946-1960). By age 29, he was elected executive secretary of the National Association of Free Will Baptists.
The drive to pursue graduate studies and his love of pastoring beckoned Dr. Lightsey from Welch College to distant campuses and pulpits. He pastored 52 years in Alabama, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Georgia—frequently in bivocational pastorates, the last 28 years at New Light Free Will Baptist Church (Morgan, GA).
A life-long professional educator, Dr. Lightsey graduated four times in 20 years: 1945 (A.B. degree at Mercer University), 1951 (B.D. degree at Emory University), 1955 (Th.M. degree at Columbia Theological Seminary), and 1965 (Ed.D. degree at the University of Georgia). He served 16 years as Professor of Educational Research at Georgia Southern University and assistant to the vice president. When he retired, the Board of Trustees conferred on him the title of “Professor Emeritus of Educational Research.” He also received the Dean Day Smith Service to Mankind Award.
He was the original owner of Lightsey Construction Company, Inc.
Georgia pastor William (Buddy) Morris, one of three ministers who officiated at Dr. Lightsey’s funeral, said, “Ralph was a real friend to me in the 21 years I’ve been in Statesboro. He gave me quiet encouragement and frequently reminded me of the important role of bivocational pastors. When I had by-pass surgery in 1990, he filled the pulpit for me. He was a builder as well as a pastor and educator, and he built some things inside me with his counsel and advice. I’m going to miss him.”
Dr. Lightsey is survived by his wife of 67 years, Wavine Reeves Lightsey; daughter June Pool; son Nelson Lightsey; three grandchildren, and a sister, Ruth Johnson.
President Matt Pinson said, “Dr. Lightsey had a great impact on Welch College in its early years, as a teacher, administrator, and member of the Board of Trustees, and in the college’s more recent history as a donor and supporter of this ministry. I thank God for this man, his ministry, and his impact on our denomination.”