The Rev. Harold Leighton Hawkins died on August 29, 2016 at the age of 96.
Harold was born in Charlotte, NC on June 17, 1920 to Annie Mae Lay and Joseph Franklin Hawkins. He received a Bachelor of Science in Sociology from Wake Forest College in 1942, then attained a Bachelor of Divinity from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1945, as well as later graduating from the Clinical Pastoral Care Program at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, NC and the School of Alcohol Studies at Yale University.
The Rev. Hawkins was ordained a Southern Baptist minister in 1944 by the Crescent Hill Baptist Church of Louisville, KY. After serving as a Navy chaplain for fifteen months and heading a homeless outreach program for a year, he became a hospital chaplain—a vocation he followed for over 40 years. During his 15 years serving a hospital in Alexandria, LA, Rev. Hawkins first found Unitarian Universalism at the UU Fellowship of Alexandria, and in 1967 he formally joined the Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge, LA. In 1974 he moved to Tallahassee, FL to chaplain for Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, where he would serve for 26 years. Rev. Hawkins’ interest in the denomination continued to grow, and in 1991 he decided to apply to become a UU minister, and was accepted. While a member of the UU Church of Tallahassee, he simultaneously ministered to two other Florida congregations: the UU Fellowship of Bay County in Panama City, and the UU Fellowship of the Emerald Coast in Valparaiso—the latter of which elected him their Minister Emeritus upon his retirement in 2000.
During his time with the UU Fellowship of Alexandria, he founded and led a discussion group entitled the Tuesday Night Class. This religiously diverse group, dedicated to the free sharing of ideas, met for 12 years in the home of a Jewish doctor—a close friend of Rev. Hawkins. Throughout his ministry, a continued source of inspiration for Rev. Hawkins was the concept of “freethinkers”: those who use reason to seek philosophical and religious truth outside the bounds of orthodoxy and dogma. At the UU Church of Tallahassee, Rev. Hawkins later founded a new group based the books Christianity without God by Lloyd Geering and Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby. Called the Freethinkers Forum, this group is committed to reason and seeking the truth, and it continues to meet at the UUCT to this day. Later in life, Rev. Hawkins joined the Freedom from Religion Foundation of Madison, WI.
Rev. Hawkins devoted much of his time and energy toward helping the communities and congregations to whom he ministered, but in his spare time he enjoyed fishing, playing golf, tending his vegetable garden, and chopping wood for his stove. Later in life, it was his great joy to spend time with his beloved grandchildren—passing on lessons, telling stories, or just playing on the floor.
As his family wrote in their obituary for Harold, published in the Tallahassee Democrat:
His life began in the depths of the Great Depression when just surviving was a great challenge. His life spanned decades of great change and great social challenges. He moved from the Southern Baptist Church to the Unitarian Universalist Association but his message of adhering to Christian values, brotherly love, and equality for all were unshakable. To say he touched a few lives would be an understatement. The life story of Reverend Hawkins would make a mighty fine sermon.
Rev. Hawkins is survived by his six children: Donald R. Hawkins, Margaret Elaine Cox, James Alan Hawkins, Carolyn Blome, Harold Frederick Hawkins, and Joseph B. Hawkins; eleven grandchildren; and three great grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife Margaret Anne Johnson.
A celebration of life service conducted by son Joe was held on Saturday, October 1, 2016 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee, 2810 N Meridian Rd, Tallahassee, FL 32312.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to UUCT/Freethinkers Forum Fund and mailed to UUCT, 2810 N Meridian Road, Tallahassee, FL 32312.
Notes of condolence may be sent to Joe B. Hawkins at 217 Rhoden Cove Rd, Tallahassee, FL 32312.