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Longtime Presbyterian leader George Conn dies after brief illness

LOUISVILLE (PNS) The Rev. George M. Conn Jr., who during an illustrious career in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) never failed to charm with a ready smile and/or a bad joke, died peacefully at home here Oct. 4, surrounded by his family and a chorus of laughter, tears and hymns of praise. He had been fighting a brief but intense battle with cancer.

George M. Conn Jr.
George M. Conn Jr. —PNS file photo

A native of Bristol, Va., born in 1935, Conn excelled athletically throughout his life as a distance runner, boxer, race car driver, body builder and football player. He earned his Explorer Silver Award, Eagle Scout, and Vigil Honor, Order of the Arrow from the Boy Scouts of America. He was also an avid fly-fisherman and music-lover.

A graduate of Tennessee High School, he attended Emory and Henry College, earned his undergraduate degree from King College, and graduated from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va..

Conn was ordained by the PC(USA) in August 1962 and in October of that year married Judith Gaynell Kennedy, his beloved wife of 52 years. His first call was to Shenandoah Presbyterian Church in Johnson City, Tenn. Over the next 37 years, he would serve as the Presbyterian campus minister at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City: college pastor at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College, Laurinburg, N.C.; pastor of University Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa, Ala; and pastor of Massanutten Presbyterian Church, Penn Laird, Va..

Between those pastorates, Conn served on the national staff of the church as director of the Office of Higher and Public Education for the General Assembly Mission Board of the former Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) and following Presbyterian reunion in 1983 as associate for racial ethnic schools and colleges for the General Assembly Council of the PC(USA).

Conn was perhaps most proud of his nearly 28 years of service as a U.S. Navy chaplain, 24 of them with the U.S. Marine Corps. Assigned to the United States Navy and Marine Corps Education and Development Command, Quantico, Va., Conn retired as a Captain in 1990. From 2002-2004, he served as national chaplain for the Marine Corps Reserve Officers Association.

Following his retirement in 2001, he continued to serve churches as interim pastor. Conn served the denomination in numerous capacities, including as a member of the Advisory Committee on International Evangelism; the General Assembly Council and its Worldwide Ministries Division; and the Council of the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic.

Conn devoted his life to his faith, and was especially dedicated to civil rights, social justice, and higher education. He was recognized with honorary doctorates from numerous schools and colleges across the country.

In addition to Judith, George Conn is survived by his children: Deborah Conn McCallister and husband Tim, and their children Charles Matthew McCallister and Andrew Connor McCallister; George Maurice“Moe” Conn, III and wife Kacey, and their children, Brooke O’Shea Conn, Jeffrey George Fisher, and David Thomas Fisher; Rebekah Conn Foster and husband John, and their children, Georgia Anne Foster and John Fielding Foster IV.

A memorial service will be held at 4:00pm, on Thursday, Oct. 9 at Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville.

by Jerry Van Marter