Funeral services Saturday paid tribute to a longtime Plaquemine pastor whose legacy extended far beyond the pulpit of Plymouth Rock Baptist Church.
Rev. Lee T. Wesley, who died from bone cancer on Nov. 10, was laid to rest after services at Renew Church in Baton Rouge. He was 76.
He served as pastor for 19 years at Plymouth Rock Baptist Church, whose history dates back to 1894.
Wesley, who was known for his work to bring racial unity to communities, took an active role in education, affordable housing and other issues pertinent to the local community.
Wesley was instrumental in the formation of the Westside Sponsoring Committee, a coalition of non-profit organizations in Iberville and West Baton Rouge parishes whose mission focused on “work for the common good, including religious congregations, civic organizations, fraternal organizations and other non-profit entities.”
Wesley battled cancer for more than a year but continued to preside over church services until the shelter-in-place mandate for COVID-19 took effect on March 23.
He also served as president of the Iberville Minister’s Conference, an alliance of local clergymen who serve as a support network to assist with issues in their local communities and throughout the parish.
Wesley provided a wealth of wisdom for clergy from all denominations, said current Iberville Minister’s Conference president Rev. Clyde McNell, who has served 27 years as pastor at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Plaquemine and New Life Church in Grosse Tete.
“He was a preacher’s preacher. You could look to him, he knew how to give you encouragement, and if you had a problem in your church, he always gave very good advice,” McNell said. “You looked for his wisdom in certain matters. You always felt a genuine friendship with him, and you always knew you could depend on him. He was very minister-minded and was always seeing what he could do to make an impact on people, in general.”
Wesley also helped establish the New Horizons Community Corporation, which grew out of Plymouth Rock Baptist Church. The group focused on assisting low-income families obtain affordable housing.
Wesley instituted the Davis-Williams Award in honor of Rev. Jetson William Davis and Professor Wendol Orville Williams of Iberville High School, who served their community as leaders in religion, education and civil rights. Wesley won the award in 2020.
Sandra Castle, who worked as an administrator during Wesley’s tenure at Plymouth Rock, said her association with him changed her life.
“When I first went to work there, I was very intimidated and I had never been around someone so structured, so organized and so well read,” she said. “I didn’t think I could do the job, but he later told me I need to turn that around because I’m just the kind of person he needs to work with.
“It was a life-changing experience for me,” Castle said. “He had so much wisdom and so much love for people, and that went across rich and poor, across all ethnicities and nationalities. He just loved people.”
Wesley also helped form “Together Baton Rouge” as an effort to bring together all ethnicities to work toward improving education, job availability and quality of life in Baton Rouge.
“He had a way of networking with people and finding common ground,” Castle said. “His concern was to bring all races together as a way to find common ground in efforts to bring entire communities together.”
Wesley’s ability to bring together communities for the common good will play the biggest role in his legacy, McNell said.
“He was very minister-minded by seeing what he could do to make an impact on people, in general,” he said. “The uplifting of communities and the grass-roots work were things he did just to bring a community together.”