On October 27th, our longtime colleague, encourager and friend, Dr. Henry Blount passed away at the age of 94. A Mississippi native, Dr. Blount became a Louisiana institution in his own right. He faithfully served churches and communities all over the state, from Shreveport, Monroe, and Ruston in the north to Opelousas, Hammond, Lake Charles and Baton Rouge to the south. Thankfully, his journey ultimately led him here, where he enriched the lives of so many. We celebrate his life and friendship, grateful for the wisdom and encouragement he so freely shared with us all.
The youngest of six children, Henry Clayton Blount, Jr. was born to Sally and Henry Blount on December 29, 1925 in Philadelphia, Mississippi. His parents were great role models. His father was an educator, a highway commissioner in Mississippi, and was even the county superintendent of Neshoba County. Henry’s mother, also a great inspiration, was a “housewife” and a house mother at a local junior college. Henry remembered his youth with great fondness. “It was a very happy time in my life,” he said. “I liked to jitterbug (dance), play a nickelodeon and visit Choctaw Lake.” Henry was also a “soda jerk” as a teenager and joked that he loved to give free sodas to all of his girlfriends. Henry was popular in school, serving as both the editor of the yearbook and the drum major for the band.
Henry joined the Navy to fight in World War II. He trained in radar and traveled to the North Atlantic on his ship to hunt for Nazi submarines. If he detected a submarine, he would notify his superiors for them to take action against it. “That’s when I learned how to pray,” he recalled. “I prayed we wouldn’t find any.” He recalled one time in particular when a torpedo was fired and Henry believed it may have blown up a whale instead of a submarine—a humorous memory which he still recalled even after 75 years of time with a twinge of regret for the poor whale.
In 1948, Henry married the former Marilyn Speede. Over the next 57 years, the pair shared life together, eventually becoming parents of five children, 12 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
After leaving the Navy, Henry felt an “urge” to become a minister. He went to Millsap College for a degree in theology, later Emory for a masters, and then the Iliff School of Theology for a doctorate in ministry with an emphasis in counseling. “I wanted to pastor a church and applied to be a minister in Louisiana,” Henry recalled. He saw a notice on the college bulletin board about an opening for an associate pastor position in Monroe. He took the job, which started Henry on a lifelong journey to provide the best ministerial services that he could to his congregations. Over the years, he served congregations in Monroe, Welch, Lake Charles, Baton Rouge and Hammond. His skills for handling people were quickly recognized and he became the district superintendent over 66 Methodist churches, headquartered in Ruston.
In 1989, the bishop needed a good man to succeed the recently deceased and beloved minister, Rev. Tracy Arnold, at the First Methodist Church-Alexandria on Jackson Street. Henry was just the man to for the job. Thus began his close relationship with his adopted home in Cenla. In addition to his various congregational posts, he also served as the chaplain to Briarwood Hospital and taught classes in therapy and in relieving depression and anxiety. For more than 60 years, Dr. Blount served as an ordained elder and pastor in the Louisiana Conference of the United Methodist Church, including three years as a District Superintendent. From 1989 to 1995, Dr. Blount served as pastor at First United Methodist Church Alexandria (FUMCA) four different times, including an attempted retirement in 1992.
As it turned out, retirement was one thing Dr. Blount was never particularly good at. He went on to “retire” a total of eight times, including from FUMC-Alexandria, FUMC-Pineville, and Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church. Or maybe he just really liked retirement parties. In 2007, Dr. Blount was honored for his decades of service to First United Methodist Church in Alexandria, the Louisiana Conference and the United Methodist Church as a whole when he was named Pastor Emeritus. At the time, then-FUMC senior pastor Rev. Donnie Wilkinson said, “The Pastor Emeritus role is a way of celebrating how Henry has been there for the church during good times and in bad. He’s been a source of strength, a source of encouragement, a source of stability in tumultuous times, and for all his years of faithful, dedicated servanthood, we want to honor him with the highest honor that a pastor can receive.” Even in retirement, Dr. Blount continued to accept invitations to preach, celebrate and share milestone occasions as a minister for the rest of his life.
Throughout his ministry, Dr. Blount developed a keen sense of what it meant to care for people and the unique challenges that accompanied the life of an ordained minister. “Being a preacher is not like anything else in the world,” he said. “It is being loved and unloved, understood and misunderstood. It is joy and sadness. It is heaven and, to be honest, at times, a bit of hell.” No stranger to loss, Dr. Blount lost his first wife, Marilyn, in 2006 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease, the pair having lost their 32-year-old grandson, David Watkins, to a brain tumor less than a year before. “The loss of someone you love is an emotional amputation,” he explained. “A big part of you is missing, and it is difficult for your brain and heart to get the message.” Henry’s faith, family and friends saw him through and he maintained his trademark infectious sense of optimism through the rest of his life. He explained, “Marilyn was a beautiful gift from God, and the proper response to a gift is gratitude.” Henry would find love again, when he met and married his second wife, JoAnn, who survives him.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly to hear regarding a near life-long ordained minister, Henry never felt he was a so-called “religious man”. Rather, he felt that “Christianity is a movement to get a relationship with yourself, your neighbors, and with God.” He explained, “We are a spirit with a body, not a body with a spirit.” Henry channeled that perspective when he began writing the ever popular Faith Focus column back in 2001. With staunch dedication, he strove to share his life experience with readers each month. “I want my readers to truly deepen their faith and relationship to God, and to examine their spirituality,” he explained. He shared reflections on love and loss, life and death, joy and sorrow, learning to look for the good even in the dark. Throughout, he was always very careful to never take life—or himself—too seriously. Over nearly two decades, Dr. Blount leaves a treasure trove of wisdom, humor and encouragement in the form of his collected Faith Focus works, which we will continue to revisit and share with the community well into the future.
A bit of a renaissance man, Dr. Blount was a ballroom dancer, master gardener, piano player, humorist and painter. “There is so much stress in today’s world, all of us need something to take us outside ourselves,” he explained. “Music, running, writing, meditating, praying and other disciplines can lead us to a spiritual level.” Henry first tried his hand at oil painting in the 1970s. “I took a brief course in oil painting when I was living in Lake Charles,” he recalled. “In the late 80s, I was living in Ruston and I heard about an outstanding watercolorist, M. Dogulas Walton, at Louisiana Tech. I became a student of his teaching,” he continued. “I gave my oils away.” Over his decades long artistic career, Henry won several national and local awards for his impressive paintings, many of which adorn the walls in homes across the state. Far more than just a creative outlet, Dr. Blount found painting a spiritual experience. “When the creative juices start to flow, it is then that I feel God’s presence,” he explained. “It’s like being a co-creator with God.”
Dr. Henry Blount changed thousands of lives for the better over his nine decades of life and his loss is a profound one for our community. He once wrote of loss, “We grieve, then, because we love.” So our community does grieve because Cenla loved Henry Blount, and Henry Blount loved Cenla. He also loved life. “I am one of the most blessed people on the face of the Earth. All of my dreams have come true…and then some!,” he exclaimed. “Between the ‘bookends’ of life and death is a wonderful gift. That you ‘are’ is a great affirmation.” He approached life’s final retirement the same way he did all the others…with an eye toward what’s to come. “I’m not afraid of death. It is the inevitable step all of us must take, sooner or later. This physical body must be laid aside so the spiritual body can be born.” And he concluded, “When time does run out, I want a celebration of music, dancing, food and lots of hugs and laughter that will put the other retirement parties in the shade.” Amen.
Additional contributions by Michael Wynne and Bill Sumrall.