Rev. Malone Dodson, key figure for Georgia Methodists, dies at 85

The Rev. Malone Dodson headed Roswell United Methodist Church for decades, growing the church as the community grew into a burgeoning Atlanta surburb. Dodson died this month from COVID-19. (ALICIA HANSEN/STAFF)

Credit: AJC staff

Credit: AJC staff

The Rev. Malone Dodson headed Roswell United Methodist Church for decades, growing the church as the community grew into a burgeoning Atlanta surburb. Dodson died this month from COVID-19. (ALICIA HANSEN/STAFF)

A former church staffer who took over shepherding the Rev. Malone Dodson’s flock at Roswell United Methodist Church described his former boss this way, “He carried his faith as best he could, but it was too big and he spilled it everywhere he went.”

The Rev. Tom Davis, the current senior pastor at Roswell United Methodist church, also presided over Dodson’s funeral last Friday. Dodson, who was 85, died August 7 from complications from COVID-19.

His friends describe Dodson as a larger-than-life figure who didn’t boast about his achievements, a jocular clergyman and occasional prankster who took his relationships seriously, and as a child of the Great Depression who understood that a rich life isn’t built on money but caring for others.

Dodson was born at Crawford Long Hospital in Atlanta and spent his life and career in Georgia. He graduated from Southwest DeKalb High School and LaGrange College, where he met his future wife, Charlotte, attended Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and led four Georgia parishes before being called to Roswell in 1977.

During his 24-years at Roswell United Methodist, Dodson oversaw its five-fold growth from 1,500 members to 7,500 as the town swelled into a populous metro Atlanta suburb. As the leader of one of the fastest-growing churches in his denomination, Dodson recognized early the need for expanded services.

He founded a counseling center providing health services that also served clients who were not church members. He gave adults and children with developmental disabilities their own Sunday school class, and he launched a ministry for divorced and single adults.

Dodson also helped found a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity and served with civic organizations including the Special Olympics and the Rotary Club. He received multiple awards including the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce’s top honor, the Pioneer Award, and earned a place in the Roswell High School Hall of Fame. Dodson won the latter for showing up at nearly every game.

“He was this celebrity in North Fulton,” said Dodson’s granddaughter, Meredith Brasher, “a hyper-local big deal … He would go to the high school football games and hug on everybody. Many of my friends are weeping over my grandfather’s passing.”

Robin Harp recalled how their two families vacationed together, and how Dodson, whom she described as a second father, flew home early because a parishioner had died.

“He came along in an era when pastoral care was paramount,” Harp said. “If you were in the hospital, he was there. If you were in need, he was physically present. If you needed a hug, he was there. He was the ultimate shepherd of a flock that he loved, and the flock was big, not just his church.”

Dodson’s desire to help others was instilled at an early age. His daughter, Melanie Brasher — who is Meredith Brasher’s mother — described Dodson’s upbringing as “poor.” Yet the family kept a jar in their Bouldercrest Road home in DeKalb County into which his parents stuffed money to share with those in need. Dodson’s father, Roy, was a cabinet maker and carpenter; and his mother, Bernice, worked for Sears Roebuck & Co. at the company’s Ponce de Leon Avenue warehouse that is now Ponce City Market.

“It was a very loving environment, even though they didn’t have much,” Melanie Brasher said.

That life wasn’t free from tragedy. Dodson lost one of his three sisters, Linda, who died when she was just two years old. Yet Dodson always maintained an upbeat attitude about life.

“Life is so fun and it keeps getting funnier,” Melanie Brasher recalled her father saying.

Meredith Brasher recalled stories about Dodson pranking church staffers by disguising his voice when he called them with outlandish requests.

As recently as a year ago, after Dodson had already suffered two strokes, Melanie Brasher recalled how her father told her that he wasn’t ready to die. “I want to live,” she remembered her father saying. That attitude changed as Dodson’s health further deteriorated.

“I’ve done what I’m supposed to do here,” she recalled her father telling her more recently.

Along with Charlotte Dodson, and Melanie and Meredith Brasher, Dodson is survived by two sisters: Theresa Major and Myra Ray; two sons and their wives: Steve and Susan Dodson, Phil and Tracy Dodson, as well as Melanie Brasher’s husband, Joe Brasher. Dodson is also survived by six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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