The Rev. Asa Dorsey, the gentle-voiced mountain preacher whose renowned compassion and near-photographic memory of the Bible led him to preside over more than 1,700 funerals, will be laid to rest himself today.
Dorsey suffered a heart attack at his Cleveland home on Christmas Eve and died Friday. He was 93.
Dorsey, who preached a Holiness Church-based gospel primarily in White and Hall Counties, was a skilled orator and student of the scripture with a fourth-grade eduction, said his biographer, Larry Fricks, who wrote the 2003 book "The Greatest of These" about the preacher.
But it was his generosity and compassion for the downtrodden that became his legacy, Fricks said.
"He had such an impact on generations of Appalachian families, and a set of values he didn't just talk, but lived," Fricks said.
Dorsey, who ran a successful milling business in addition to his preaching endeavors, often helped feed hungry families, provide medicine for the ill and visited inmates in prison, Fricks said.
"He was a one-man Red Cross," Fricks said.
Born Sept. 22, 1915, Dorsey was the seventh of nine children. He worked on his father's White County farm and later said he received the calling to preach at age 16. At 20, he married 18-year-old Annie Kate Palmer. The couple had nine children over a 62-year marriage.
Dorsey made a name preaching at summertime camp meetings and revivals throughout Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and North and South Carolina.
Dorsey, who was raised a Methodist, became a pioneer for the Holiness style that, with its hallmarks of speaking in tongues and faith healing, was initially not well-received among the region's mountain folk, Fricks said.
"He won people over to a different way of worshipping, not by confronting them, but by the deep passion he had," Fricks said.
Dorsey's ministry transcended denominations, however. In 2003, State Sen. Carol Jackson passed a resolution commending Dorsey's good works.
"Whether the task is preparing a sermon, visiting the sick, counseling the troubled, baptizing a new believer, or any of the other countless responsibilities of a minister of the Gospel, Rev. Dorsey has shown the energy, devotion, and commitment truly reflective of divine guidance," the resolution read.
"The unmatched spiritual assistance offered by Rev. Dorsey is a source of strength, inspiration, and direction for persons in all walks of life and from all economic strata."
Zell Miller, a former Georgia governor and U.S. senator and a native of Young Harris, said of Dorsey in a forward to "The Greatest and Best," "(He) is truly one of God's ‘good and faithful servants' ... Future generations should know that a man like Asa Dorsey once lived among us in these mountains."
Funeral services for Dorsey, who was preceded in death by his wife and two of his children, are set for 4 p.m. today at Union Grove Congregational Holiness Church in Cleveland. The Revs. Paul Flynn and J.D. Sosebee will officiate.