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William Corley (1939)
In 1959 the First Baptist Church of Lawrenceville was looking for a new pastor. Specifically, a search committee wanted a minister with experience in leading a church's expansion because First Baptist of Lawrenceville needed new and bigger facilities. The committee found such a man in the Rev. William Corley. At that time, he was pastor of the Rockmart Baptist Church, which had undergone a $225,000 renovation, in great part thanks to his supervision of planning and fund-raising.
The Rev. Mr. Corley validated the wisdom of the committee's choice. During his 25-plus years as pastor at First Baptist of Lawrenceville, the church built a new sanctuary that seats more than 1,000 worshippers, a fellowship hall, an education building, a kindergarten and a library. Attendance rose from 300 in 1959 to 1,500 in 1985, when he retired.
He became a revered figure among his congregants. Said one of them, Jim Sosebee of Grayson, "He was a humble child of God, a scholar of God, a powerful instrument of God and a man after God's heart."
The Rev. William Corley Sr., known to his friends as "W.C.," died at age 91 Thursday at the Gwinnett Extended Care Center of heart failure. His funeral is 3 p.m. Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Lawrenceville with interment to follow at Gwinnett Memorial Park. Tom Wages Funeral Service, Lawrenceville Chapel, is in charge of arrangements. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in the Rev. Mr. Corley's memory be made to Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation -- Project Path, 1755 North Brown Rd., Suite 100, Lawrenceville, GA 30043.
The eighth of 14 children, the Rev. Mr. Corley was born and reared in Augusta. He felt a call to become a minister in his high school years and preached on the streets of his hometown and to inmates at a local prison.
He studied extensively in preparation for the ministry at Toccoa Falls Bible Institute, where he met his wife-to-be, Sara Dunn, who died last year; at Mercer University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in English; at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where he earned a master's degree in theology, and at a Jewish synagogue in Rome, Ga., where he took advanced courses in Hebrew.
"Daddy was a biblical scholar, developing a fluency in both Hebrew and Greek so he could interpret Scripture for himself," said his daughter, Jerrie Lynn Peevyof Lawrenceville. "He wasn't an evangelist but a searcher after truth. He believed in leading by example rather than by pronouncements from the pulpit."
Mrs. Peevy said when she was a girl, she often accompanied her father when he went to the Gwinnett hospital to comfort the families of dying patients there. "With his kind and gentle nature, he brought with him a sense of peace that you could feel," she said.
The Rev. Mr. Corley was chaplain of the Central Gwinnett Black Knights football team for 13 years. "You might say the boys kept bringing him back by popular demand," Mrs. Peevy said. "In fact, in later years he presided at the weddings of a number of them."
He also officiated at numerous weddings where the bride and groom came from different faith traditions. "He was equally comfortable in marriage services in small chapels, big cathedrals and synagogues," said his son-in-law, Donn Peevy.
"He respected all established faiths," Mr. Peevy continued. "When opposition rose to the building of a mosque in Lawrenceville in the late 1990s, he took a positive position, and the mosque was built. In gratitude for his speaking on their behalf, its supporters presented him with a copy of the Qur'an, and he was pleased to study it."
The Rev. Mr. Corley devoted nearly as much attention to his community as he did his church. "Daddy was sought out by Gwinnett leaders for his thoughts on development issues because of his insight into people's needs here," Mrs. Peevy said.
Survivors include two other daughters, Judith Kenna of Decatur and Lisa Collett of Duluth; two sons, William "Buddy" Corley Jr. and Kenneth Corley, both of Lawrenceville; a sister, Carolyn Jones of Macon; a brother, Charles Corley of Columbus; eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on 9/10/2011