The Reverend George E. Downey died September 11, 2017 at High Pointe Hospice, Haverhill. A resident of Groton, Massachusetts, he was born September 6, 1924 in Fountaintown, Indiana. Attending a Disciples of Christ church in Greenwood, Indiana throughout his youth, he received pre-Ministerial deferment during the Second World and Korean Wars and graduated from Butler University and the Lexington Theological Seminary, being ordained into the Disciples of Christ ministry.
Post-High School, the Rev. Downey attended an ecumenical and inter-racial United Christian Youth Movement Conference in Wisconsin, hosted by the International Council of Religious Education. It was his first ecumenical and inter-racial experience and was to launch a lifetime of liberal work in religious expression, Civil Rights and social justice.
Married to Jean Grubb Downey on June 30, 1946, together they raised five children and hosted one of the first AFS students from Papua, New Guinea – the late Jon Miria. Called as minister in 1949 to the First Christian Church in Belhaven NC, he served as minister for four and one-half years, one of two parish ministries in his career.
As Administrator of the United Christian Youth Movement in both NC and TN (1957 through 1967), he ran Christian youth programs at Camp Caroline and Kings Mountain, NC and
Bethany Hills, Kingston Springs, TN. With Andrew Young, in the early '50's he convened inter-racial camping session at a Quaker facility in western NC (the only group that would host such an event) and in 1961 with Will Campbell (Executive of the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen) saw the hosting of a radical session of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee at the Bethany Hills camping facility.
Asserting, "All my camps had water problems," he could address any engineering, mechanical, electrical or construction issue – overseeing the design and building of cabins, camp site Hogans, pools, waterworks, a native teepee, a weather station and the preservation of an historic log cabin. Throughout all, his wife Jean co-ministered as camp nurse and dietician.
His comprehensive woodworking and mechanical skills dated back to his installation of a washing machine engine on his Soap Box Derby car… the original family television and phonograph were Heath Kits, and the Shopsmith turned out almost all the household furniture. In the early '60's he borrowed You can Make a Stradivarius from the Nashville Public Library and proceeded to carve a violin; George went on to re-make his Autoharp, make a Banjo, Mandolin, Bass Fiddle and numerous Appalachian Dulcimers.
George Downey served the National Council of Churches 1967-1969 at Geneva Point Camp, New Hampshire but was called to be Minister of First Parish Church United, Westford from 1970-1991, a congregation with both UCC and UUA affiliations. During this time, he built and replaced the original church bell wheel in the 1794 steeple, and upon replacement of the rotting chestnut post (mounting the colonial weathervane) he fashioned numbered, signed chestnut boxes as a church fund raiser. He authored A History of First Parish Church of Westford, written for the 250th Anniversary of the church.
Serving on the Board of the Shaker Community of Sabbathday Lake, Maine he created reproduction Shaker furniture for the Shaker Library, pantry boxes and other items for sale in the Gift Shop, and served as officiating pastor at the funerals of several Sisters and one Brother.
Upon the presentation of a Shopsmith to the Shaker Community, he taught several brothers to make stacking oval boxes based upon the original Shaker original design. His woodworking skills were such that Shopsmith hosted the taping of his instructional classes in Albuquerque, NM. In retirement, as a member of First Parish Church, Groton he crafted the morning offering boxes, outfitted the new church library, designed the service candle tables and turned the mahogany chalice.
Author, naturalist, gardener, storyteller, weaver, musician, woodworker, husband, father and pastor whose moving sermons and reflections were "Downeyisms," George Downey was preceded in death by his wife Jean G. Downey, son Douglas B. and son-in-law Noel D. Rainville. He is survived by brother Jack Downey of Indianapolis; his son Gregg, daughter-in-law Joyce and grand-daughters Leah and Kala of Clarksville, TN; daughter Ellen Rainville of Westford, MA and daughter Marsha and son-in-law Rob Lyons of Littleton, MA and son Neil Downey of Groton, MA.
A Celebration of Life Memorial service will be held Saturday, October 14, 2017 at 2pm at First Parish Church of Groton, 1 Powderhouse Road, Groton.
Donations in memory of the Rev. Downey may be made to:
Southern Poverty Law Center,
400 Washington Ave.
PO Box 548
Montgomery AL 36177-9621
High Pointe Hospice House,
360 North Ave.
Haverhill MA 01830.