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William Robert Porter: AME Pastor and Confidante of Many

Mary Wells | 1/7/2009, 1:06 p.m.

The Rev. Dr. William Robert Porter, 75, a strong advocate for women in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, died of cancer Dec. 30, 2008 at Washington Hospital Center.

He was pastor of Hemingway AME Church in District Heights, Md. for 33 years before his health demanded his retirement from the 1,000 member church in 2005. Fighting back tears after Bishop Adam Richardson gave him his retirement certificate, Rev. Porter said, "It is very emotional when you have been somewhere for 33 years and you have baptized babies and the babies of their babies."

Rev. Porter also broke new ground by being one of the early supporters of Bishop Vashti McKenzie as the first female bishop in the AME Church.

The youngest of three children of the late Marie West and Earl Mack, Porter lost both parents before he was seven-years-old and was adopted by his maternal aunt. He attended secondary schools in D.C., graduating from Armstrong Senior High School.

He married Doris Roberts in 1955 and fathered four daughters, Robin, Dionne, Darian and Dana.

He attended Miner Teachers College and Howard University School of Religion. He was honored by the B.F. Lee Theological Seminary in Florida and the Monrovia College in West Africa when he was awarded a Doctorate of Divinity and a Doctorate in Law and Humanities, respectively.

Porter was appointed by the late Bishop Wendell Murphy in 1972 to serve as pastor of Hemingway Memorial, located at that time in Fairmount Heights, Md.

He was elected as a delegate to the General AME Conference and became known throughout the AME Church as a dedicated mentor, visionary and encourager. His colleagues said he was the one many in the AME Conferences turned to when making difficult business or personal decisions.

"You can't call on Bill Porter anymore," said Bishop William DeVeaux, Presiding Prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District, AME, who preached the Eulogy, "but you can call on the God he believed in."

He fathered into ministry numerous ministers, including the Revs. Grainger and Jo Ann Browning of Ebenezer AME and Dana Porter Ashton, his daughter.

"They took us in when we came from Massachusetts, not knowing where we would be staying or pasturing,€ Rev. Jo Anne Browning said. €They fed us, shepherded us and epitomized love to us. Mrs. Porter told her husband to hire my husband as youth pastor at Hemingway and she taught me how to be a first lady."

Rev. Grainger Browning said, "Ebenezer has its foundation from Hemingway. He was a family man and the hardest working man. He worked at HUD from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., then came to Hemingway every night, and Saturdays, too. He let me know that ministry was not a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. position."

Many colleagues spoke of Rev. Porter€s involvement and leadership in the area, including helping to carry a coffin to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial reading "Jim Crow is Dead" during the 1963 March on Washington. He worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during early years of the District's home rule and was invited to the White House to meet with President Lyndon Johnson as youth advocate for DC Mayor Walter Washington.

Left to mourn his demise are his wife of 53 years, Doris Porter; daughters Robin Porter Smith of D.C., Dionne Porter Luckett of Suitland, Md., Darian Porter Jones of Wake Forest, N.C. and the Rev. Dana Porter Ashton of Owings Mills, Md.; a sister, Sarah Harley of Landover, Md.; a brother, Earl Mack of D.C.; an adopted son, Bobby Craig; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.