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Photo courtesy of
Duke University Archives

William Walter Peele, Bishop

He was known as Walter Peele, the fourth son of Andrew H. Peele (1850-1914) and Nora Jane Gibson (1856-1936), and was born near Gibson, NC, on 26 November 1881. A graduate of Trinity College (now Duke University), Walter was one of the outstanding Methodist leaders of this century, rising to the highest office in the church, President of the College of Bishops.

He attended Gibson High School in Gibson, NC near the South Carolina border. Walter attended Trinity College where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1903 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1903 he started his teaching career as a Professor of Mathematics at Rutherford College, in Conoly Springs. In 1906 Walter was ordained to the ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church. At the age of 25, he became President of Rutherford College in 1906 where he remained until 1909. He returned to his birthplace as Pastor of St. John's Methodist Church near Gibson, NC.

While preaching at St. John's, he met and married Elizabeth Lytch of Laurinburg, North Carolina in 1911, but they had no children.  Elizabeth was a pillar of strength throughout his career.

From St. John's, Walter went to the Aberdeen-Biscoe charge and then became Headmaster of Trinity Park School from 1915 to 1918, the preparatory school of Trinity College, in Durham, NC.  Next, he was the Professor of Biblical literature at Duke University. He entered Officers Training School at Plattsburg, NY during World War I and returned to Duke as an Acting Dean when he was discharged.

In 1918, Walter accepted the pastorate of Edenton Street Methodist Church in Raleigh, NC where he remained for five years.  In 1923, he became Pastor of Trinity Methodist Church in Durham, NC.  In 1928, Walter received an honorary degreee of Doctor of Divinity. That same year he was transferred to the Western North Carolina Conference and became Pastor of the First Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC until 1937.  He was the Superintendent of the Greensboro District from 1937 to 1938.

In 1938, Walter was elected Bishop at the last General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the Southern District, held in Birmingham, AL.  The Methodist Episcopal Church united with Methodist Protestant Church to form the Methodist Church at the United Conference in Kansas City, MO in 1939.  After its union, Walter was assigned as Bishop of the Richmond Area which included 56 eastern counties of Virginia and North Carolina and then was elected President of the Council of Bishops--the highest honor in the Methodist church and the final step in his ladder of success.

He was the only pastor of Edenton Street Church of Raleigh to be elected to the episcopacy since the church was founded in 1811.  Walter served the church as Vice-President of the Foreign Division of the Board of Missions; Chairman of the Commission on Army and Navy Chaplains, Commission on Camp Activities, and Methodist Commission on Overseas Relief; and President of the North Carolina Council of Churches.  He received honorary degrees from Duke University and Randolph-Machine College.  Bishop Peele was a devoted alumnus of Duke University and his aid and counsel in various matters pertaining to alumni work and other interests of the institution were of decided value.

None of the high honors that came to him caused him to lose the "common touch" which he prized so high.  Bishop Peele never forgot the sacrifices his parents made to educate their large family.  He never lost his deep sense of humility and gratitude for the opportunities he received, to serve God and his fellow-man. Bishop Peele retired in 1952 and died on 1 July 1959.  He is buried in the Lytch Cemetery in Laurinburg, North Carolina.  (Parts of this article are taken from the Charlotte Observer - 16 Aug 1952 and an article by Grady L. E. Carroll.)

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