Joseph Samuel Gresham, 1887-1989
Joseph Samuel Gresham, at the time of his death the oldest member of the Virginia conference and the oldest graduate of Randolph- Macon College, died October 25, 1989, at the Hermitage, Richmond. He was 102 years old. Joe was born April 17, 1887, in the living quarters over his father's country store in Dinwiddie County. After graduation from Petersburg High School he engaged in office work, acquiring the secretarial and stenographic skills which, along with a student appointment in Chesterfield County, helped put him through Randolph-Macon College. He was licensed to preach in 1911, ordained and joined the conference in 1913 and completed his education with a B.A. degree in 1915.
Also in 1915, he married Mary Tatum Friend, the daughter of a Methodist minister and a talented teacher. Joe said of her that "she became at once a valuable member of the Gresham team." The team was widely and affectionately known across the conference as "Brother Joe" and "Sister Mary." Young people, of whom this writer was one, were especially drawn to the warmth and grace of their home.
Joe's appointments included Matoaca, Powhatan, Blandford and City Point in the Petersburg District; West End, Lynchburg; Central and First Church, Hampton; West End, Roanoke; Front Royal; and Oxford, Suffolk from which he retired in 1953. He also served for two years as superintendent of the Eastern Shore District, but after two years was happy to return to his real love which was the pastorate. He records that he conducted 648 weddings "and probably as many funerals." Staunchly moral, solidly theological, careful and precise in administration, he was nevertheless at his best as a pastor where his gentleness, his compassion and his human sensitivity shone through.
In addition to his pastoral duties he was a conference statistician for over 30 years and for 15 years was a manuscript reader for the General Conference Book Editor. He records that he "vetoed one manuscript, suggested drastic changes in two and approved 40." After his retirement he again picked up the secretarial skills of his youth and for 12 years was administrative assistant and secretary for the conference Board of Church Extension. His beloved partner, Mary, died in 1961, and a few years thereafter Joe retired a second time and became a resident of the Hermitage where he was active in the affairs of the home and a frequent visitor in the Health Care Center. He is survived by his two daughters, Martha Dandridge DuBose and Charlotte Friend Miller.
A memorial service was conducted at Woody Funeral Home, Richmond, October 28, 1989, by the Rev. William S. Ferguson whose grandfather had been brought to Christ through Brother Joe's ministry. Ferguson said of him, "Wherever he served he was beloved and appreciated for his life and ministry. So caring and helpful, supportive and understanding, his gentle, compassionate way was a blessing to all."
- William A. Wright