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Pearl McNeil: Remembering a Fuller Pioneer

Pearl McNeil - First female and first African American female trustee at Fuller Theological Seminary

Pearl Lee Walker McNeil, a longtime and pioneering Fuller Seminary board member, passed away July 29, 2014, at the age of 98. Dr. McNeil, who served on Fuller’s Board of Trustees from 1971 to 1991, blazed a trail as the seminary’s first female trustee—and its first African American female trustee.

Dr. McNeil’s was a rich and full life of several careers: social scientist, college administrator and professor, humanitarian, ecumenist, and homemaker. Most notable is her record of service to others via her volunteerism in the local, national, and international communities. From CubScout den mother to Michigan Civil Rights Advisory Commission member to invited participant in the John F. Kennedy White House Conference on Children and Youth, she volunteered on behalf of many who did not have a voice.

As the first woman to serve on Fuller’s board, Dr. McNeil brought an important voice to the seminary’s leadership and paved the way for many more female trustees who followed in her footsteps. She had a no-nonsense approach that Senior Professor of Preaching Bill Pannell, who served alongside her as a trustee, remembers well: “She was not a person you invited to your team if you wanted to dilly-dally,” he recalls. “She came prepared to work, she stayed on the task until it was finished, and yet withal had a lovely, understanding, and supportive spirit. You could see it in her smile.”

McNeil held a Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in Washington DC and a Master of Arts from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Earning a PhD in Cultural Anthropology from American University at the age of 63, McNeil was called soon thereafter to serve as Professor of Mission and World Christianity at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia.
Jesse and Pearl McNeil
McNeil is predeceased by her husband, pastor and educator Jesse Jai McNeil Sr., and survived by four children and multiple grandchildren. A memorial service will be held Thursday, Aug 14, at noon at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Detroit, the church where her husband pastored. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to the McNeil Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 1999 by McNeil and her husband to conduct teacher and parent workshops, write instructional materials, and help churches with leadership development.

As Dr. Pearl McNeil goes to glory, we celebrate her many contributions and her life in Christ, and share a prayer that was her favorite:

Heavenly Father, what we know not, teach us; what we have not, give us; what we are not, make us. For what we have been, forgive us; as we are now, receive us; toward what we should and shall be, guide, guard, and direct us. Amen.



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