Celebrating the life of Rev. Dr. Deborah Ann Thomas Dennie
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On September 20, 1939, as the warmth of the summer began to fade into the cool of autumn, God, the creator of the universe, the author of “Let there be, let there be”, who had already spoke to the essence of who she was before being conceived, in His incomparable majesty blessed Elder Willie Timothy Thomas Sr. and Missionary Beatrice Bell Thomas with the birth of their daughter, Deborah Ann Thomas.
The foundation of her faith began at an early age at the Temple Church of God In Christ. It was there where Deborah developed her passion for creatively expressing the God she so loved. The Infallible word of God, the fasting, praying, laying on of hands, all night tarry services, the ushering in of the Holy Spirit, laying prostrate before God, tent revivals, the Holy Convocation, and the Young People Willing Workers were all vital ingredients woven into the tapestry of the core of her being. Actively serving in various capacities that were accomplishable, Deborah discovered that the church itself expanded beyond mere walls and that there was a vast audience of souls waiting to be reached, thirsting to know God, and longing to be loved. With the encouragement of her parents, elders and mothers of the church Deborah explored what “Thinking outside the box” exemplified and created The Experimental Religious Theater. Her collaboration with the young adults of the church offered an arena for them to experience and express the expansiveness of God through interpretive dance, drama and music. She served as an Evangelist Missionary in the First Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ. Deborah was dedicated to working for the Lord through her father’s ministry at Moldentown Church of God In Christ where she served until his passing in 1980. Afterwards, under the stirring of the Holy Spirit, Deborah transitioned to the African Methodist Episcopal Church. This move of God offered her a returning to the roots of her father’s heritage. Deborah served as ordained Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, pastoring for 22 years. Upon retiring, she supported her brethren in the ministry by working alongside Rev. Harry L. Wilson (First AME), Rev. Willie Woods (New Allen and New Tyler AME Churches). She continued serving God as the Associate Minister at New Tyler under Rev. Darrell K. Scott until her passing.
Deborah, or as many who grew up with her would call her De-bo-rah, was proud of being a product of Orange Mound, Tennessee. She loved to let you know that she was a ‘Golden Wildcat” from the Melrose High School graduating class of 1957. With her mother as her driving force, Deborah continued to scale the heights of academia, attending Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio where she obtained a double major in English and Biology, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 1961. Having an insatiable urge to excel, she received a Master of Arts Degree in English with a minor in Education from Memphis State University in 1967. She continued her education with course work in Comparative Literature working towards her Ph. D. at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee from 1968 -1971. Returning to Memphis State in 1983, she received a Master of Science Degree in Counseling and Personnel Services with a collateral area in Psychology. In 1997, Deborah received her Ph.D. in Health and Human Services from Columbia Pacific University in San Rafael, California.
Deborah’s quest for knowledge would continue to be exemplified throughout her life. She received five years Seminary Equivalent Curriculum training in the African Methodist Episcopal Church from 1980-1985 and was ordained an Itinerant Elder. She also received certificates from Trinity Bible College and Seminary and from clinicians specializing in culturally sensitive approaches to healing physical, emotional, and behavioral problems while assessing self-knowledge and inner-truth. Many of the widely acknowledged clinicians Deborah trained under include, Theodore X. Barber, M.D., Leonard Campos, Ph.D., John Dursay, M.D., John Pierrakos, M.D. and Joseph Cassius, Ph.D.
Those who knew Deborah were aware that none of her accomplishments, whether educational or professional, could compare to her life with Thurman. What began as a simple gesture of an invitation to a wedding from one of her high school students turned into a love story that transcended time. Deborah was introduced to a handsome young gentleman, Thurman Paul Dennie, who was also attending this wedding. It was something about that day on July 30, 1965 that would forever change both of their lives. There is certainly something to be said about love at first sight. Their union was divinely orchestrated by God and they joined in holy matrimony two months after they met on September 30, 1965. Thurman and Deborah laughed, lived and loved as they walked through the journey of life together for over 44 years. Their union brought into the world two children Deirdre Beatrice Dennie and Thurman Phillip Dennie. You could always hear Deborah proudly proclaiming, “I enjoy being Mrs. Thurman Paul Dennie.” That trumped everything. Thurman was her soulmate, her heart beat and the rhythm of the music she danced to all in one. Thurman preceded Deborah in death on January 08, 2010. Deborah knew her family and friends loved her, but it was something about the gift of Thurman given to her from God that had a hold on her heart, even after his passing, which words could not express and man could not phantom.
Generally, one’s life is examined with chronological events or accomplishments occurring one after the other. However, Deborah effortlessly soared in her element as she accomplished many of her professions simultaneously.
As an Educator, Deborah taught high school, college and seminary based curricula from 1962-2010. Her career as an English teacher began at Hamilton High School in 1962, followed by positions at S.A. Owen Junior College from 1965-1968; Lemoyne – Owen College from 1968-1969; Faculty Wives and Women of Memphis promoting their Adult Education Program 1971-1973; Southwest Tennessee Community College from 1989- 2010; and the African Methodist Episcopal Church Board of Examiners/West Tennessee Conference.
As an Expressive Communicator, Deborah illustrated her competency in the use of aesthetic dimensions of communications. She produced, directed and hosted a radio program for former Congressman Harold Ford, Sr. on WLOK called Capitol Hill Close Up, served as the congressman’s ghost writer and attended speaking engagements whenever he was unable to attend. Deborah also served as Associate Editor for the Tri-State Defender Newspaper; developed and presented forums which addressed administrative issues of women pastors and brought awareness to issues concerning opportunities for women in church; focused on the training and the retaining of women in the ministry. Deborah passionately encouraged women to expand their interests in chaplaincy, writing, teaching, counseling and research. She broke through barriers for women in the ministry, giving all women a voice to walk fully in the calling God has on their lives.
As a Psychotherapist and Counselor, Deborah demonstrated her drive to help others experience healing from behavioral, cognitive, emotional and psycho-social issues. She was certified as a Licensed Marital Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor. The stage Deborah utilized to reach others was through serving as an Inmate Family Counselor for Shelby County Sheriff’s Office; Director for Crisis and Stress Management; Co-Therapist for Midsouth Institute for Group and Family Psychotherapy; Psychotherapist for Cassius and Associates; and Clinical Director for River City Psychotherapy and Associates.
As a Programs Specialist/ Coordinator III/Director of Programs for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department, Deborah dedicated 26 years to implementing and improving guidelines to ensure that Shelby County was providing a constitutionally correct jail. She coordinated with volunteers, established a job bank and facilitated a Work Release Program for the sentenced women. Her success with the Sheriff’s Department was driven by her desire to make processes and systems work for all individuals. Deborah wrote the guidelines for the Inmate Disciplinary Board, facilitated Shelby County Board of Education’s involvement in providing continuing education and developed Ethnosynthesis Communications Process, which assisted staff in working through issues that precluded optimal performance. ECP was a frontrunner of the County’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP). In fulfilling her role as Director/Manager of Programs, Deborah was adept at crisis management, trouble shooting, and problem solving while maintaining compliance with strict budget controls. She addressed the Jail’s needs by promoting diversity, researching, and networking with community organizations, institutions and leaders to provide better services such as the Alcohol and Drug Program, the Reading Increases Self Esteem Program (RISE) and inmate programs with the Department of Probation. Deborah believed one was only as good as those under her and to accomplish her goals set for her department she had to have a strong team. With that in mind, she took pride in developing, encouraging, guiding, mentoring and motivating her staff to excel in every capacity of their assignments. Together, the Programs Department was successful and exemplified excellence in every endeavor. She retired from the Sheriff’s Department in 2004.
As an ordained Itinerant Elder in the West Tennessee Conference of the 13th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal, Rev. Dr. Deborah T. Dennie pastored for 22 years. She was dedicated to dynamically preaching the word of God, winning souls for Christ, embracing the community and spiritually elevating the consciousness of man. Throughout Rev. Dennie’s pastoral journey, the prompting of the Holy Spirit guided her to reach beyond the walls of the church into the neighborhoods and housing communities sharing the “Good News” of the gospel. She instituted the Richard Allen Summer Youth Program, The Weekly Food Pantry, Sunday Dinner for the Homeless, and the Annual Omni Awards (Celebrating the Unsung who made valuable contributions to the community). The Churches under her Pastoral Care were St. Paul Benjestown, Mt. Pisgah (Lucy, Tn.), Brown Chapel, Historic Clayborn Ball Temple, St. Mark Munford, and Avery Chapel.
As a trailblazer in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Dennie was the first female clergy person of many accomplishments. She was the first female clergy person to pastor a major charge (Avery Chapel) in the 13th Episcopal District, elected as President of the West Tennessee Minister’s Alliance, appointed West Tennessee Conference Trustee, elected as delegate to the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, appointed as Dean of Third Year Studies of the Board of Examiners of the West Tennessee Conference., and elected as a Connectional Officer for the Women in the Ministry serving alongside of Rev. Dr. Sandra Blair. Rev. Dennie also held the position Judicial Liaison for the 13th Episcopal District Women in Ministry.
Reverend Dr. Deborah Ann Thomas Dennie, with grace and at peace, exchanged her residence from this earthly dwelling on Friday March 25, 2016.
Her family who will carry on the vibrancy and passion of her legacy is her daughter, Deirdre Dennie Pledge (John); her son, Thurman Phillip Dennie; her only grandson & the joy of her life - Jeremy Paul Dennie; three sisters-in-law, Florida Haynes Thomas, Ellen Dennie and Jacquelyn Williams of Washington, D.C.; one brother-in law, Tommy Dennie of Michigan; one nephew, Elder Willie Timothy Thomas III (Elder Sandra); one niece, LaWanda Jean Payne (William); god-family, Ursula Lomax and family; her dearest friend Dr. Mildred Denby Green; and a host of relatives and friends.
Visitation to be held on Friday, April 1, 2016 from 5 -7:00 p.m. at Serenity Funeral Home.
Funeral services will be conducted at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 2, 2016 at St. John AME Church, 4862 Millbranch Road.
Inurnment at Serenity Columbarium and Memorial Garden - Rotunda, 1622 Sycamore View Rd., Memphis, TN 38134.
Serenity Funeral Home, 1638 Sycamore Road, Memphis, TN 38134 Tel. 901-379-0861
1638 Sycamore View Road
Memphis, TN 38134
4862 MillBranch Road
Memphis , TN 38116
1622 Sycamore View Rd.
Memphis , TN 38134