Rev. Ronald J. “Shay” Gillespie 61, of Monticello, died on July 15, 2017, at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff surrounded by family.
He was born August 10, 1955, in Little Rock to the late Ozelma Butler and James Gillespie, Sr.
Shay gave his life to Christ at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church under the leadership of Rev. T.S. Skipper. He preached his first sermon in March of 2003 and was ordained as a minister in January of 2005. At Morning Star, Rev. Gillespie also served as a trustee, member of the choir, and youth minister for five years. In September of 2010, he was installed as the proud pastor of the Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist Church of Wilmar where he remained until his death.
He graduated from Little Rock Central High School in 1973. He graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello in 1978 with a double major – Physical Education and Speech Education and Dramatic Arts. He left a legacy as the first Black student to serve as sports editor of the student newspaper and yearbook. In his honor, the Shay Gillespie/Phi Beta Sigma Scholarship has been endowed at UAM.
In the late 1980s, he became the first Black department editor in Southeast Arkansas serving as the sports editor of the Advance Monticellonian. In the spring of 1990, he was among the first two Blacks ever elected to the Monticello City Council. From 1990-2001, he served as founder and advisor of a community youth organization, “Young People Thinking Ahead, (Y.P.T.A.)” During that period, he directed a total of over 1100 young people in grades 4 through 12. For 18 years, he served as chairman of the Drew County Martin Luther King Celebration, sponsored by the NAACP. In 2011, he was recognized by Drew County Branch #6042 as an NAACP Lifetime Member.
In 2006, he became a published author with his book entitled, “…And A Little Child Shall Lead Them.” During that same period, he recorded a live C.D. sermon entitled, “It’s Church Time.” He hosted a weekly broadcast ministry called the “Full Hour of Gospel Power,” as well as a daily broadcast called “A Few Soul-Soothing Seconds for Salvation.”
During UAM Homecoming 2010, he was honored with the UAM Achievement & Merit Award. He was chairman of the UAM African-American Alumni Association and a member of numerous organizations including the Bartholomew Masonic Lodge #28 of Monticello, Omicron Omicron Sigma Graduate Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, and UAM’s Centennial Circle.
For 19 years, Rev. Gillespie and his wife, Sherrie, have been owners of Head of the Class Childcare & Learning Center of Monticello, one of the most productive programs in South Arkansas. In April of 2016, The Gillespies successfully opened the G-Plex SuBercenter on the grounds of their pre-school center. The business is a corporate partner of UAM Athletics. In 2008, Head of the Class was selected by the Chamber of Commerce and MEDC as Monticello/Drew County Business of the Year. In 2009, Rev & Mrs. Gillespie were chosen as Man & Woman of the Year. The couple was also among the honorees in the inaugural class of the 2013 Citizenship Awards. They were honored by The Coalition for Shared Progress and The Citizens Group of Southeast Arkansas.
Pastor Gillespie leaves to cherish his precious memory his lovely wife of 35 years, Sherrie Rogers Gillespie of Monticello; son, Kelin Gillespie of Corpus Christi, Texas; son, Dwight Cavaness, Jr. of Little Rock; daughter, Ashia (LaKendrick) Woods of Monticello; six grandchildren, Ke’Unna Gillespie and Kylah Gillespie both of Bartlett, Tennessee, Desirae Cavaness of Conway, Malik Webb of Monticello, Mikayla Cavaness of Little Rock, and Alexis Woods of Monticello.
Also mourning Pastor Gillespie’s passing are sisters, Gloria James, Barbara (Willie) Buchanan, Denise Gillespie, all of Little Rock, and Shenia Miller of Conway; brothers, Ray Gillespie of Little Rock, and Melvin Miller of Conway; father-in-law and mother-in-law, Henry and Vera Suber of Monticello; godmother, Classie Jones-Green; eight sisters-in-law, Kawana (Bennie) Yarbough, Cheryl (Joe) Ivy, Cynthia Bennett, Donna (Bennie) King, Patricia (Don) King, Marion (Joe) Wright, Pamela (Lee) Trotter, LaToya Finley; one brother-in-law, Kenneth (Margaret) Rogers; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, other relatives, church family, and friends.
Pastor Gillespie was preceded in death by his brothers, James Gillespie Jr., Donald O’Shay Gillespie, and Lee Andrew Miller; granddaughter, Bri’Juana Cavaness; and special aunt, Vera Pruitt.
Funeral service will be held on Saturday, July 22 at 11 a.m. at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church, 312 E. Oakland Street in Monticello with Rev. Larry Alexander officiating. Burial to follow in Oakland Cemetery. Repast at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church. Visitation is Friday, July 22 from 6:30 p.m. until 8 p.m. at Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church.
Services entrusted to Paradise Funeral Home of Monticello.