Death of Charles Lord, former missionary

Death of Charles Lord, former missionary

Reverend Charles Robert Lord passed away peacefully on January 30, 2010, at Wharton Nursing Home in Pleasant Hill, after recent open heart surgery. In one news article Charlie was described as “a man who lived a life serving other people. He was a social worker, missionary, and photographer who lived life as a true disciple of Christ.”

Reverend Charles R. Lord
January 5, 1920 – January 30, 2010

Reverend Charles Robert Lord passed away peacefully on January 30, 2010, at Wharton Nursing Home in Pleasant Hill, after recent open heart surgery.

In one news article Charlie was described as “a man who lived a life serving other people. He was a social worker, missionary, and photographer who lived life as a true disciple of Christ.”

Charles Lord was born on a farm in Grinnell, Iowa, on January 5, 1920, to Jesse and Elizabeth Lincoln Lord.  He worked to make a difference in the peaceful resolution of human conflicts, the advancement of African education and minority empowerment, the safeguarding of the environment, and the improvement of care for mentally ill persons.

His maternal grandfather was a Quaker minister. Charles decided to become a missionary after meeting famed world literacy pioneer and missionary Frank Laubach at Berea College, where he earned his BS degree in agriculture in 1942. Being a pacifist, Charles registered as a conscientious objector when the U.S. entered World War II and served the war years in Civilian Public Service (CPS). While assigned to CPS in Philadelphia, he met his future wife Josephine (Joy) Swift, a Quaker staff member for the American Friends Service Committee, and they were married in Wilmington Friends Meeting in 1945. His CPS assignments included being a human guinea pig in a jaundice experiment.

Another CPS assignment, at the Philadelphia State Mental Hospital at Byberry, altered Charlie’s life and changed the future of treatment of the mentally ill in the U.S. A skilled and professional photographer, Charlie found the conditions at Byberry so deplorable that he defied the rules against taking pictures. When his photos of naked, unsanitary, debilitated patients were published in Life Magazine and several major newspapers in 1946, the powerful message hastened the subsequent U.S. movement for humane treatment of mentally ill persons. Charles then helped form the National Mental Health Foundation to fight for the rights of mentally ill persons. Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, after seeing his photos, joined the organization and rallied help for the cause. He continued to be an advocate for the mentally ill and in 2002 was honored for his lifetime of service at a special ceremony organized by the Cumberland County (Tennessee) chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).

Soon after World War II Charles crossed the Atlantic to take cattle to war-devastated European farmers needing to rebuild their herds, and then farmed with his father near Grinnell, Iowa, for six years. He never forgot his long delayed desire for mission work and returned to college to earn a teaching certificate. In 1954 Charlie, Joy, and their three children went to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) as missionaries for the United Church of Christ with the United Church of Christ in Zimbabwe (UCCZ). He learned Chindau, the local language, and managed the mission’s large farm.  He then became superintendent of schools and supervised the 50 mission schools, including the building and staffing of 15 new schools. During a furlough from mission work in 1961, he received an MA in History from the University of Iowa.

In 1965 Southern Rhodesia declared independence from Great Britain, and the following year the government declared Charlie a prohibited immigrant because he was a known champion of black political rights. Returning to the U.S. Charlie taught at Wilmington College and in the Dayton (OH) public schools.  He also served as a pastor at Cove Springs UCC in Troy, Ohio (1967-69) and at New Goshenhoppen UCC in East Greenville, Pennsylvania (1970-76). He received his Master of Divinity from Moravian Theological Seminary and was ordained in the United Church of Christ in 1975. He and Joy then returned to the mission field with the Moravian Church to Tanzania, East Africa, where Charlie learned Swahili and taught in a school of theology until 1982. He then served as pastor at Marion UCC in Woodman, Wisconsin, from 1983-86 and at Carrier UCC in Carrier, Oklahoma, from 1986-89.

In 1992, Charlie and Joy moved to Uplands Retirement Village, Pleasant Hill, where they continued to contribute to the causes that guided their earlier lives. At the Pleasant Hill Community Church he chaired the Board of Deacons and led the Peace Committee and the Social Action Committee. For many years he joined others in calling for the closing of the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. Charlie organized work crews to rebuild burned-out African American churches in the southeast United States and joined work camps to rebuild homes in Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina. He was a volunteer mediator for the Cumberland County Victim-Offender Reconciliation Program; was active in Save Our Cumberland Mountains, a regional environmental group; and served on the board of directors for Common Cause in Tennessee. He founded the instrumental Uplands Ensemble and directed it for its initial years, while also playing the baritone horn inherited from his father.

On December 30, 2009, National Public Radio aired an interview with Charlie and other conscientious objectors about the impact of their efforts to improve the treatment of the mentally ill in the US. The story is still available on the NPR web site, and several of his photos can be seen there at

Charles was deeply devoted to his wife and family and cared wonderfully for Joy in her last years. Joy passed away in March 2009.

Charles Lord is survived by his children, Beth Lord of Lawrence, Kansas, Donna (Brian) Little of Randolph, Virginia, and Ron (Jenny) Lord of Silver Spring, Maryland; three grandchildren; one great-grandchild; a brother, Howard (Wilma) Lord of Montezuma, Iowa; and a sister-in-law, Alice Lord Unruh of Port Orchard, Washington.

A memorial service celebrating Charlie’s life will be held in Pleasant Hill Community Church in Pleasant Hill on Saturday, March 6, at 10 a.m. His ashes, along with those of his wife, will be interred in Westfield Cemetery near Grinnell, Iowa, at a later date. Charlie requested no flowers.

Messages of condolence can be sent to Charlie’s childen:

  • Beth Lord, 1101 Vermont Avenue, Apt. 303, Lawrence, KS 66044-3384
  • Donna Little, 444 Mossingford Road, Randolph, VA 23962
  • Ron Lord, 1808 Briggs Chaney Road, Silver Spring, MD 20905

Memorial gifts in Charlie’s name can be sent to: Global Ministries online at or by check to the Global Ministries offices in Cleveland (700 Prospect Avenue, 7th Floor, Cleveland, OH 44115) or Indianapolis (P.O. Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206).