On Saturday, September 2, Leland Bagwell completed his lifelong task of guiding people to Christ by his ministry and, more importantly, by his personal example. Surviving difficult heart surgery in his sixties, he was given a lease on life that spanned 31 additional years by the time of his death at 92. His unstoppable commitment to humbly serving and loving those he came into daily contact with only grew with his advancing years as he retired and returned to the farm life he so loved as a young man.
Leland was born in Frederick, Oklahoma to parents who had migrated there from North Georgia in the early twenties. The family moved back to Georgia shortly before the Great Depression to a small farm just north of Rome. One of his fondest childhood memories was getting his first drink of Coca-Cola at age 5 compliments of a favorite uncle, whose father soon chastised him profusely for having introduced Leland to such a sin.
Gifted with an intense curiosity and desire to excel, Leland graduated at the head of his high school class in 1941. His college career ended abruptly when his father contracted tuberculosis. Without complaint, Leland returned immediately to the farm and assumed management of the family dairy. His future again was transformed when a beautiful young girl on his city milk route caught his eye, and Alice became his bride in 1948. She would ultimately become his spiritual partner as well, when, ten years later, Leland heard the voice of God calling him to the ministry early one morning, as he sat in the barn stall milking a cow.
Without hesitation, but with the enthusiastic blessing of Alice who would have to support the family through his preparation for the pulpit, Leland returned to college at age 33. He completed seminary at Atlanta’s Candler School of Theology. Quiet and shy, it took the gift of a Dale Carnegie course from a friend to give Leland the courage to stand before a group and speak without fear. His self-assurance grew as he gained a deeper understanding of God’s grace–and gave him the wisdom he needed to gently bring others into a meaningful relationship with Christ through his counsel and his example.
Leland’s first church wasn’t a church at all–just an old house with the interior walls removed at one end to form a rudimentary sanctuary with folding chairs and a podium he built himself. More than 50 years later, Lawrenceville Road United Methodist Church in Tucker, GA is a thriving, vital fellowship of some 500 believers. Successive appointments included Hephzibah/Blythe UMC in Hephzibah and Blythe, GA; Augusta’s Pierce Memorial UMC; Jefferson UMC; Cleveland UMC (a favorite locale to which he and Alice later retired); and North Rome UMC (the church in which he and Alice were married.) Ever the farmer, Leland had a tradition of planting grape vines in the back yard of every parsonage the family occupied. These became a biblical metaphor for the souls he would grow into the rich spiritual harvest he leaves behind.
Leland is survived by his brother John (Margaret); nephews Charles (Margaret) and Irwin (Susan) Bagwell; his children David (Yvonne), Don (Mary Margaret) and Julia Tyson (Marshall); grandchildren Ann Marie Lingerfelt (Brent), Leigh Scroggs (Jacob), Natalie Johnson (Ashley) and Abby Tyson; and three great-grandchildren. As a memorial to Leland’s spiritual mission, the family asks that gifts be made to Cleveland United Methodist Church Legacy Fund, 112 E. Kytle St., Cleveland GA 30528.