When John Manning gave the children’s sermon at Simpsonwood United Methodist Church, he made sure to get the full attention of his audience.
Sometimes that involved dressing up as a superhero, but that was no problem for Manning, a natural storyteller, who might deliver his Bible stories while decked out in a red cape and a superman costume.
If longtime pastor Laurence McCullough had to compete for attention, well, he did so in good humor.
“We would come home from church,” said McCullough, “and I’d ask, ‘Did I do OK today?’ and my children would ask ‘Did you hear Mr. Manning? Did you see what he did? Wasn’t he incredible? Mr. Manning is awesome!’ It was all very friendly, and my children ended up not hating church as preacher’s kids will, mainly because of John Manning.”
Manning, 70, died Saturday, as he helped an elderly woman who had been evicted from her home.
A graduate of the University of Georgia and Mercer Law School and a fan of the Georgia Bulldogs, Manning practiced family and corporate law. He and his family lived in Decatur and attended First Baptist Church Decatur until 1989 when they moved to Peachtree Corners. In addition to his work with the Methodist church, he was a long-time volunteer with the YMCA.
On Saturday, he and a group of other men from Simpsonwood UMC moved the belongings of an older women who had been evicted. The woman’s furniture had been removed from the house and dumped on her lawn and Manning worked through the morning, helping load it into trucks and bringing it to a storage facility.
“When he gets a call he’s the first to jump up to run to serve,” said his daughter, Sarah Frances Manning Locke. Manning, 70, lived with Type 2 diabetes, said Locke, and neglected to eat breakfast that morning. It was likely that his blood sugar became dangerously low, and sometime after lunch he drove out to get some food. He was at a fast-food restaurant, said McCullough, “but diabetic shock had already set in with him. With food in his mouth he passed out.”
McCullough said Manning’s heart stopped. Emergency medical technicians brought him to Gwinnett Medical Center, he said, but their efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.
With or without a red cape on, Manning was a hero to Doug Heckman, who also helped move furniture that day. “If you went around Peachtree Corners and you said ‘Who is the most famous person in town?’ in the same breath as our new mayor Mike Mason, you’d hear John Manning,” said Heckman. “He was a selfless servant.”
“He was one of the kindest, gentlest souls I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet,” said Cale Meador, 22, who heard many Manning sermons as he was growing up. “He was so full of energy and life that he genuinely reminded me of Robin Williams.”
McCullough, who retired in 2010, will return to the Peachtree Corners church to speak at Manning’s memorial service. It’s scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 5, at Simpsonwood United Methodist Church, 4500 Jones Bridge Circle, NW, Peachtree Corners, Ga. The family will receive friends from 7-9 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 4, at Crowell Brothers Funeral Homes & Crematory, 5051 Peachtree Industrial Boulevard, Peachtree Corners, Ga.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to Simpsonwood United Methodist Church, www.simpsonwoodumc.org and the Robert D. Fowler Family YMCA, www.ymcaatlanta.org. On-line condolences may be made at www.crowellbrothers.com.