We offer our condolences to the family and colleagues of the Rev. Dr. Oliver “Gene” E. Pickett who died on July 19, 2020, at the age of 94.
Gene was born on September 18, 1925 in Winfield, MD. He served the United States Navy from January 22, 1943 to June 5, 1946, following which he went to the American University in Washington, DC and received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 1948. He then graduated with his Bachelor of Divinity from the Meadville Lombard Theological School, IL in 1952; the same year he married his fellow seminary student Helen Rice. In 1974, Meadville Lombard Theological School awarded Gene with an honorary Doctor of Divinity.
Rev. Pickett was ordained on February 28, 1953 by the First Unitarian Church of Miami, FL (now the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Miami, FL) where he carried out his first ministry from 1952 to 1954. He then accepted a call from the First UU Church of Richmond, VA and ministered for eight years (1954-1962). Later, in 1962, he was called to the UU Congregation of Atlanta, GA where he would serve for twelve years (1962-1974). Subsequently, he joined as a Ministerial Education Director at UUA (1974-1975), and as a Director of Department of Ministerial and Congregational Services, UUA (1975-1979). From 1979 to 1985, Rev. Pickett served as the fourth President of the UUA. In 1986, for serving the church in fine and solid fashion during a difficult period of transition, the UU Congregation of Atlanta, GA honored him as their minister emeritus. After his presidency, Rev. Pickett continued his ministry at the Church of the Larger Fellowship, Boston, MA as a settled minister (1986-1991). On July 31, 1991, after years of distinguished service to Unitarian Universalism, he retired from his active ministry. In 1992, the Church of the Larger Fellowship honored him as their minister emeritus.
Rev. Pickett’s denominational work included serving as a Treasurer, Vice President, and President of the Unitarian Fellowship for Social Justice (1955-1963). He was Vice Chair for the Southern Unitarian Institute (1958); President for the Thomas Jefferson Ministers’ Association (1962-1963); and member of the Regional Fellowship Committee, UUA (1962-1970). He also was President for the Mid-South District, UUA (1963-1965); and Ministerial Settlement Representative, Mid-South District (1971-1974). Likewise, Rev. Pickett served the Board of Review, UUA (1971-1974). He was a board appointed member of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee from 1999 to 2000. For the UU Meeting House, Chatham, MA, he served as a Board Member from 1999 to 2000, and as a member from 2003 to 2017.
Rev. Pickett’s presidency marked an era of growth in the history of Unitarian Universalism. The number of adult memberships, and the religious education programs grew significantly. There were four consecutive years of growth in the total number of UU congregations; and with the creation of the Whitney M. Young, Jr., Urban Ministry Fund, the urban congregations received significant attention from the UUA. A new youth organization: Young Religious Unitarian Universalists was launched. The UUA had a higher percentage of settled women ministers - fifty percent higher- than any other denomination. Rev. Pickett also strongly advocated on placing women ministers who acknowledged publicly as lesbians. In addition, he initiated an annual conference of District Presidents to bring district leaders to Boston, to share with them and learn with them. Also, social actions remained high on the denominational agenda during his term; an Institutional Racism Audit at the administrative and board level of UUA was initiated to address the issues of racism. Furthermore, the Unitarian Universalist Holdeen India Fund was launched to distribute approximately $400,000 a year for assistance to women in India who constituted the most impoverished and powerless. Beacon Press was established as a leading publisher in the field of women’s studies during his tenure. Rev. Pickett facilitated the writing of UU principles which needed modifications; he was responsible for the UUA’s first major capital campaign Vision for Growth and the creation of Friends of the UUA. In 1989, he was bestowed with the Award for Distinguished Cause of Unitarian Universalism.
Gene was a board member of the Atlanta Urban League (1963-1969), Greater Atlanta Council on Human Relations (1963-1969) and Planned Parenthood Association (1965-1974). He provided his services as a member to the Child Development Committee, Community Council of the Metropolitan Atlanta Area (1968-1970) and to the Atlanta Metropolitan Mediation Centre (Drug Rehabilitation) (1970-1974). He served as Board Member for the National Urban League (1980-1983) and for the Americans for Religious Liberty (1982); as a member for the Society of Propagating the Gospel Among the Indians (1983) and the Joint Theological Schools Committee. Similarly, Gene was Executive Council, Treasurer and Vice President of the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) and chair of the board of the Meadville Lombard Theological School.
Throughout his ministry, presidency and his life, Rev. Pickett was active in civil rights movements. He participated in the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965. He was very committed to an inclusive and diversified religious movement and supported ordinations of women and homosexuals as clergy. In his spare time, he enjoyed reading (especially history), collecting games, traveling, gardening and bird watching.
Gene is survived by his three daughters: Ann, Martha, and Emily; his grandson Alan; as well as his many close friends and loving relationships. He was preceded in death by his wife Helen R. Pickett.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Unitarian Universalist Association.
A virtual service of remembrance was held on Wednesday, August 5, 2020 at 4 pm EDT.
Notes of condolences may be sent to his daughter Martha at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may also wish to visit the Unitarian Universalist Retired Ministers and Partners Association https://uurmapa.org/obituaries/