Remembering Rev. Bill Lawson: Community shares memories of Houston's pastor

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Tuesday, May 14, 2024
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HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A world class mind. Faithful servant. Monumental legacy.

These are just some of the words used to describe Rev. William Lawson, who died peacefully Tuesday morning, surrounded by loved ones, his family said. He was 95.

Rev. Lawson is the father of beloved ABC13 family member Melanie Lawson.

The founder of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and a civil rights pioneer who welcomed another icon, Martin Luther King, Jr, into his home, Rev. Lawson is remembered as Houston's pastor.

At the time of his death, he was Pastor Emeritus of the church, having retired from the pulpit in 2004. Still, he remained an influential leader and counsel for leaders and young people.

That much can be seen in the responses that poured in Tuesday from law enforcement to elected officials and beyond.

Below, they share how his legacy impacted them, the city and likely generations to come.

"Rev. Lawson was the rare leader who understood how to wield great power and influence with kindness and authentic humility. He was a builder and he unified people from all walks of life around a core set of values that guided his actions, not just his words. He loved all Houstonians and his legacy of servant leadership is the gold standard for everyone, especially those of us entrusted with protecting our community." - Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez

"Reverend Lawson was a civil rights icon. He courageously fought for the rights of Black people at a time when doing so could have meant death. He was a world class mind who for decades used his voice and influence to advocate for oppressed people in Houston, throughout the US, and across the globe.

He was also faithful servant of Christ and a beloved shepherd of many at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and beyond. Though we mourn his passing, it's hard to imagine living a more meaningful life. God bless Reverend Lawson. I'm praying for his family, friends, and all who he impacted during his time with us." - Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee

"I am deeply saddened by the passing of my dear friend and a towering figure in our community, the Reverend William A. Lawson. His life's work as a civil rights icon, educator, and relentless advocate for the underserved has left an indelible mark on Houston and beyond. I am profoundly grateful personally for his friendship and mentorship and for the transformative impact he had on our community. Reverend Lawson's legacy is monumental. He was a pioneering force in the Civil Rights movement, courageously hosting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at his church and supporting the brave Texas Southern University students during the sit-ins that spurred integration in our city. His commitment to justice and equality knew no bounds. To honor his monumental contributions, I recently had the privilege of naming a park after him and his beloved wife, Audrey. The Reverend William and Audrey Lawson Park will serve as a lasting tribute to their shared commitment to uplifting every member of our community. Reverend Lawson's spirit will forever resonate in the hearts he touched and the lives he transformed. Though we mourn his loss, we celebrate a legacy that will guide us for generations to come. My wife, Licia, and I are praying for his family during this difficult time." - Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis

I join people across our community in mourning the loss and honoring the life of Reverend William A. Lawson. His life of courageous and connected leadership and service shaped our community profoundly, and our city is a better place because of him. - U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Houston Mayor John Whitmire held a moment of silence for Rev. Lawson ahead of a budget proposal meeting Tuesday morning and gave these remarks.

"He helped us during the spirit of civil rights. Houston benefited from his leadership and character and it saddens us, but God doesn't allow us to choose when we lose a loved one. I'm sure in the coming days, all of Houston will join - council, employees will join to celebrate his life. Our condolences to his family and the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church family," Whitmire said.

"Heartbroken by news of the passing of Reverend William Lawson! Condolences and love to his family. He was a champion of human and civil rights. We will miss this founding member of ADL's Coalition for Mutual Respect--a true North Star for us at ADL- and a true friend!" - Anti-Defamation League Southwest

"My heartfelt condolences to the Lawson family and the community on the passing of Reverend William A. Lawson. I had the honor of meeting him multiple times, attending Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and learning a great deal from his wisdom and grace. His legacy of service, advocacy, and humility will continue to inspire generations in Houston. Rest in peace, Reverend Lawson." - Sean Teare, candidate for Harris County District Attorney

"I join the Houston community in mourning the loss of Reverend William A. Lawson, an icon, spiritual leader, and pastor of pastors, who dedicated his life in service to others. He was not a person who sought to do the safe thing. He was a person who sought to do the right thing, at all times. Reverend Lawson stood head and shoulders above others during the tumultuous period of our nation's civil rights struggles. And in these times, he opened Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church to Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who delivered a message of equality and justice. I visited Reverend Lawson recently at his home surrounded by his family and loved ones where I spent time with him and his family sharing with them my thoughts and memories on the influence he has had on me and my career in public service. Leaders like Reverend Lawson exemplify what it means to be a public servant. It is imperative that we keep his message alive and continue to uplift our communities. He will be deeply missed." - Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee

Rev. Bill Lawson, founder of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and civil rights icon, dies at 95

Reverend Bill Lawson, a civil rights icon and the founder of Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Third Ward, died Tuesday morning at the age of 95.