After a lifetime of tireless work and unwavering advocacy — for love and prayer above all else across Baton Rouge and beyond — the Rev. Mary Moody died last week. She was 91.
Born and reared in Baton Rouge, Moody became a strong voice on social issues and a pillar of the community. She received numerous awards for service, commitment and leadership, including the Powell-Reznikoff Award from the Baton Rouge Council on Human Relations in 2001.
After graduating from high school at Southern University Lab School in 1943, Moody earned two degrees from Southern University: one in business education and the other in secondary education. She later earned a master’s in education from LSU and a certificate of theology from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.
She taught English and business education to visually impaired children for more than 30 years at the Louisiana State School for the Blind at Southern University — and was one of five teachers named Outstanding Secondary Educator of America from a field of 5,000 candidates — before retiring from her teaching career to become one of the first female ministers for the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
She was ordained in 1976 and assigned to Black Creek AME Church in Darlington that same day. During her career, she also served as pastor at Mount Everett AME Church in St. Helena Parish and Heard AME Church in Baton Rouge and eventually became an associate pastor at Bethel AME Church on South Street.
During her years in ministry, Moody devoted herself to numerous Baton Rouge community organizations, advocating for children, African Americans, women, the poor — anyone who needed help.
Before receiving the first Mid City Community Lifetime Achievement Medal in 2004 at age 77, Moody told The Advocate she credits her parents with laying the foundation upon which her life rests.
"They taught us to love God," she said. "We were taught to love and see people for who they are.”
Moody was one of nine children. Her father, James Nathaniel Moody Sr., was supervisor of Negro Schools in West Baton Rouge — a career he pursued for 32 years without ever owning a car — and her mother was a teacher.
Moody had told The Advocate she concentrated on building a sense of morality, especially among children within her church, teaching them that money and material possessions cannot truly define a person. Given the lure of drug money, she said, that concept was particularly pertinent to life on the streets.
Moody also believed in the soft sell: "If you can't love people into doing, you might as well write it off. You can't badger and beat them into doing something."
She organized neighborhood cleanups and established a youth choir, never wavering from her opinion that prayer and discipline need to start at home because “nothing grows without discipline except weeds. To grow flowers and plants and trees, you need to cultivate."
On race relations, Moody consistently expressed her view that “we are more alike than we are different.”
During a speech in January 2005 commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Moody recalled meeting King in 1967 when she was still a teacher — the year before he was assassinated. King addressed the group of teachers she was with, speaking at the old Bentley Hotel in Alexandria.
"He said it was nice to be in our presence, 'But where are the people who clean this hotel?'" Moody recalled. “Not only did he ask that question but he went looking for those people. … I thought it was so significant in that he knew how to look up to the people that many other people looked down upon,” she said. “And one year later, he died attempting to help sanitation workers receive their rightful places in our society.”
Perry Franklin, then executive director of Mid City Redevelopment Alliance, described Moody when presenting her an award in 2004 as a driving force in revitalizing the mid city area. He said he was amazed with her ability to bring factions together simply through a quiet word or tap on the shoulder.
In speaking about her life on various occasions, Moody often noted she was the first woman or the first black person to have attained an honor or position. But in her humble manner, she would point out that "I never say that with pride, that's just how it happened."
Sam Sanders, the current executive director of Mid City Redevelopment Alliance, described Moody as "the epitome of leadership" and the voice of reason in many public debates, including in the aftermath of school desegregation when tensions ran high.
"I think that people will continue to state her name for many years to come because she truly lived by example," Sanders said. "Being a minister, you would always assume that someone would display that forgiveness and caring, but she didn’t just preach it — she lived it and did it."
Visitation and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority services are scheduled Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Bethel AME Church. Funeral services will be held 11 a.m. Thursday at the church. Interment will be at Southern Memorial Gardens, Baton Rouge.