Former Georgia Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union presidents are lauding retiring National WMU Executive Director/Treasurer Wanda Lee for her 16 years of service at the woman’s auxiliary to the Southern Baptist Convention.
A former Georgian, Lee announced her intentions to retire on Jan. 11 during her report at National WMU’s board meeting at Shocco Springs Conference Center in Talladega, Ala. She said she would continue to serve until a search committee names a successor.
The National WMU office coordinates its worldwide missions ministry from its headquarters in Birmingham, AL
“May God bless the new leader of National WMU as He’s blessed me on my leadership journey,” the native of Russellville, AL, told the group.
Georgians readily agree with the leadership skills demonstrated at the missions agency during Lee’s nearly two decades of service. While not the WMU’s longest serving top administrator, she has served longer than the two previous individuals – Dellanna O’Brien who served 10 years from 1989–1999 and Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler who served 15 years from 1974-1989.
The longest serving was Kathleen Mallory who served 36 years from 1912-1948. The second longest was Alma Hunt who served from 1948-74.
Annie Armstrong – WMU’s first leader – served in the same role, known as corresponding secretary, from 1888 until 1906 for a total of 18 years.
Current Georgia WMU President Jackie Hardy of Social Circle remembers the leadership skills Lee exhibited in Georgia prior to her stepping onto the national WMU stage. At the time she and her husband, Larry, were serving in Columbus.
“Leading with grace and integrity”
“Georgia WMU has had many presidents through the years who have led us well. Wanda was no exception, leading with grace and integrity. She carried that with her to Birmingham when she became national WMU executive director/treasurer after having served as president for Georgia WMU.
“She set the bar high when it comes to missions leadership. Wanda leads by example in her encouragement of others and her commitment to excellence. She will be missed but her legacy will continue to influence many as we continue to lead believers to be radically involved in the mission of God.”
Lee was known as being an active leader in WMU and Baptist life on all levels – national, state, associational, and in the local church.
She left Georgia to be executive director of National WMU in January 2000. She is the only woman in the history of WMU who also served as national president, an office she held 1996–2000. Lee also served as president of Georgia WMU from 1993 until 1996. A graduate of the Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing (now part of Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.), she ministered to others through healthcare.
Nursing career served as ministry outlet
While in Georgia she invested the majority of her nursing career at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus from 1982 through 2000, and in St. Vincent, Windward Islands, where she and her husband, Larry, served through the International Mission Board from 1979–1981.
She served on the Georgia Baptist Executive Committee, 1993–1996; AIM96 hospitality chairperson for the Olympics in Columbus in 1996; and divisional vice president for BWMU of Georgia, 1987–1991.
The Lees lived in Columbus from 1981–2000 where Larry served as pastor of Waldrop Memorial Baptist Church from 1981–1990.
From 1990–2000, he served as a NAMB-endorsed chaplain as director of pastoral care for Columbus Regional Healthcare. During those 10 years the Lees were active members at First Baptist Church of Columbus.
“An excellent leader”
Ann Watts of Sharpsburg, who served as Georgia WMU president from 2001-2005, remembered Lee as “an excellent leader.”
She remembers well the day Lee was elected during the Blizzard of 1993 which shut down much of the state and required her election being moved up one day to accommodate the storm.
“I have Alabama roots so I did not know her at the time because I didn’t have much background in Georgia WMU. But when I joined the Georgia WMU Board the next year I soon began to admire her leadership skills. I am happy for her to have more time with her family but I am sad for her to step aside from her WMU responsibilities.
“Missions is the purpose of the local church and WMU has been the missions of the church. I am confident God has the right person for this important role,” she added.
She paused for a second and then summed up her friend’s life and career in one succinct sentence: “Wanda Lee has been a faithful, faithful servant.”
Active in missions at First Columbus, Waldrop Memorial
Lee demonstrated that servanthood through a variety of channels. While at First Baptist in Columbus she served as associational and church WMU director, Women on Mission group facilitator, and a certified literacy tutor. For 25 years, she also led and mentored girls through Acteens, the missions organization for teens in grades 7–12, at both churches where the Lees were members in Georgia as well as Gilgal Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, AL, where Larry Lee was pastor from 1972 until 1979.
Current Georgia Baptist State Missionary and WMU Executive Director Beth Ann Williams called Lee “a trusted and courageous leader throughout her years of ministry. Anyone who is with Wanda quickly understands that her priority is to see preschoolers, girls, boys, men and women involved in missions education so that God’s heart would be made known to the nations.
“She is committed to praying for and serving Southern Baptist missionaries at home and around the world. Her strong and steady leadership of National WMU will be greatly missed,” Williams added.
“An effective leader of faith and courage”
Immediate past Georgia Baptist WMU Executive Director Barbara Curnutt, who served the state convention from 1998-2013, called Lee “an effective leader of faith and courage. I’ve been thankful for her untiring commitment to ensure that every generation understands the unchanging missionary purpose of God.”
Mary Laughman of Douglasville, who served as Georgia WMU president 2009-2013, said if she had one word to describe Lee besides “friend” it would be “faithful.”
I remember one of the first times she spoke to a group in my association when she was Georgia WMU President. She referred to the song ‘Find us Faithful’ as one of her favorites – the lyrics she was referring to was ‘may all who come behind us find us faithful’.
Mentor for Acteens
“Wanda encouraged all who were around her to faithfully model a missions lifestyle that would be passed on to future generations. Even with all her responsibilities as National WMU Executive Director, she was faithful to encourage and teach teen girls in Acteens – which lead me to start my own Acteens group in my church – to model missions and ministry as she used her nursing skills to help others, and as she took the time to mentor me during my tenure as Georgia WMU President.
“Wanda may retire from the day-to-day responsibilities of National WMU Executive Director, but we will continue to ‘find her faithful’ as we are reminded of the many lessons we’ve learned through her leadership.”
Laughman must know her subject pretty well. In response to a question from The Christian Index, Lee said her retirement years would continue to focus on advocating “for missions education and WMU wherever possible.”
She and her husband plan to remain in her native Alabama.