Clare Purcell

Humanitarian, Reconciler

From his roots in rural Alabama, Clare Purcell rose to prominence in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and became a confidant to presidents and leaders at all levels. He was a dedicated churchman and denominational leader, a World War I veteran, a civic-minded servant and humanitarian, and a prolific writer whose influence knew no limits.

While still a college student, he was approved for ministry in the Methodist church. He eventually would serve as pastor of eight churches in Alabama. In 1938, he was elected as a bishop by the largest margin ever given one in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and would serve as bishop in Charlotte, N.C., and Birmingham. He was elected president of the Council of Bishops in 1955, the highest honor bestowed on a Methodist. He helped facilitate the union of three Methodist groups to form what became the Methodist Church USA and served on a number of denominational boards through the years. He would be selected to deliver the sermon for the first-ever radio broadcast of "The Methodist Hour."

His influence reached beyond the church and pulpit. He was instrumental in the founding of Birmingham's Carraway Methodist Hospital and a wing of the hospital later was named for him. Both Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman sought his counsel on ways to improve life and social programs in the U.S. For his work with the Methodist Committee on Relief in the relief campaign for Korean War refugees, he was made an honorary citizen of Korea.

Bishop Purcell received many other honors in his life, including four honorary doctorates. He would earn degrees from Vanderbilt University and what is now Birmingham-Southern College.

He sought no recognition for his humanitarian work. While serving as a pastor in Gadsden, Alabama, during the Great Depression, he had an agreement with a local grocer to provide food for the less fortunate -- just one example of his concern for the well-being of others.

His wife, Ida, was a partner in all of his endeavors. They had three children, and their family's influence continues to be felt in the communities where his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and their families live and serve.

Clare Purcell was inducted into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame in 2014.