Tom Curtis Pearce Jr., early opponent of segregation

Tom Pearce was against racial segregation in the South long before that stance was considered acceptable by the majority of the populace.

And though he was an ordained minister with a doctorate, “he just liked to be called Tom, and never ‘the Rev. Dr. Tom Pearce,’”said his wife of 31 years, Carolyn Pearce of Atlanta.

“He thought that was pretentious,” Mrs. Pearce said. “All of our friends just knew him as Tom and most didn’t even know he was a minister. He never mentioned it. We didn’t see any reason to bring that up.”

Tom Curtis Pearce Jr. died Aug. 20 of kidney cancer. He was 76. A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, where he was a devoted member. The Cremation Society of Georgia is handling arrangements.

“We grew up in Columbus, back when segregation was the rule,” said daughter Alyson Pearce Griffith of Dallas. “I was proud to be the first girl to have African-American kids to my house, which he encouraged. He saw everybody as being equal.”

Son Andrew P. Pearce of Greenville, S.C., said his father marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and staunchly supported integration when it was controversial to do so.

“He encountered some adversity in the church as a result of that,” Andrew Pearce said. “He also ran into adversity in the Baptist church as a result of his divorce from my mother. But that was then and things have changed. I’m a member of a Baptist church in Greenville, and the pastor is divorced.”

“He would say, ‘God don’t make no junk,’ and ‘God doesn’t discriminate, so why should we?’" recalled Buddy Littleton of Brookhaven, who was hired in the insurance business by Mr. Pearce. "He just felt that discrimination was wrong.”

His daughter said Mr. Pearce “wasn’t into material things and more into life experience. He didn’t have a big house or drive a fancy car but he would spend money to sit at a cafe at the Louvre and drink a beer and soak in the different cultures.”

His son said one of Mr. Pearce's favorite songs was “30,000 Pounds of Bananas,” by  Harry Chapin, which focused on a truck driver who called on God only when he realized certain death was near.

Born in Ft. Bragg, N.C., Mr. Pearce earned a liberal arts degree from Mars Hill College, a bachelor’s from Baylor University and his doctorate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He served as senior pastor at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church in Owenton, Ky., Ridgewood Baptist in Louisville and Waldrop Memorial Baptist Church in Columbus.

He also served as associate pastor at Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta before going into the financial services industry decades ago.

The Rev. Betsy Lunz, who will officiate at the memorial service, said Mr. Pearce was “an intellectual whose interest in education and people” governed his life. “In my mind, he was always a minister.”

“He had so many friends,” Mrs. Pearce said. “He grew up really rough, and by the time he was 11 he had a paper route, contributing to his family. He helped everybody.”

Other survivors include his mother, Mary Barbour Pearce of Greensboro, N.C.; brothers Bobby G. Pearce of Bradenton, Fla., and Jimmy B. Pearce and Charles K. Pearce, both of Greensboro; son Thomas Edward Pearce of Louisville, Ky.; step-son David Duncan of Atlanta; and step-daughter Karen Sawyer of Woodstock.