He was preceded in death by his maternal grandparents, Elver and Essie Rae Thomas; paternal grandmother, Martha McCall; parents, Palmer and Eula Atkinson; and uncles: E.C. Thomas, former Church of God general overseer; and L.B. Thomas.
Survivors include his beloved wife, Oleda Atkinson of Ooltewah; three daughters: Reita Ball (Steve) of Chattanooga, Renea A. Medlin (Don), of Memphis; Rhonda Parris (Randall) of Cleveland; five grandchildren: Brittni Ball of Chattanooga, Taylor and Victoria Medlin of Memphis, and Clay and Alysse Parris of Cleveland; sisters: Jerri Disbrow of Lake City, Fla., and Arlene Jones (husband Gail Richard, special brother in-law and friend); several nephews and nieces; and special aunt and friend, Alice Thomas of Cleveland.
He was International Advisory Council member, and was elected to serve on the Church of God International Executive Committee as general secretary-treasurer from 1994-96. He also served as an elected member of the International Executive Council of Eighteen, three separate terms: 1986-88, 1990-94 and 1998-2002.
He was born in Lake City, Fla., and graduated from Columbia County High School.
He began his ministry in 1952 at the age of 18. He attended Lee University from 1953-57 and later earned a master’s degree at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary.
He accepted his first pastorate in Columbia, Miss., in 1958 and served in successive pastorates in Smithville (1960-66), Anderson, S.C. (1973-80) and North Cleveland Church of God (1984-88). He served as a state youth and Christian education director in Alabama (1966-70) and South Carolina (1970-73).
He was well-known for his leadership as a state administrative bishop in Mississippi (1980-1984), Kentucky (1989-1991), Alabama (1991-94), Western North Carolina (1996-98) and Tennessee (1998-2002).
From 1988-89, he was director of Media Ministries. His final leadership role with the Church of God was national evangelist. For the past seven years, he continued to encourage, love, counsel, and mentor through the ministries of Metropolitan Tabernacle church.
Throughout his ministry he served on several boards, including the board of directors for the Pentecostal Theological Seminary and was president of the Ministerial Association in Smithville as well as Anderson, S.C.
He was honored in 1994 by his alma mater, Lee University, with an honorary doctor of divinity degree.
He was a sought-after speaker for camp meetings and prayer conferences, and was well known for his strong Pentecostal preaching and Bible teaching. He has many “spiritual sons and daughters,” who he mentored and developed over the last six decades. Many will remember him as a true “statesman,” world-class leader, and gifted Bible scholar. His love for God, his family, the Church, his friends and “ordinary people” ran very deeply and was easily observed in his everyday life.
He and his wife of 54 years, Oleda, were truly a “team” in all of their ministry and life experiences.
Visitation will be held Friday, Nov. 4, 2011, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., followed by the Celebration of Life and Legacy service of Dr. Walter Atkinson at 7 p.m. at the Metropolitan Tabernacle Church, 2101 West Shepherd Road, Highway 153 at Airport Exit 1A, in Chattanooga.
Heritage Funeral Home in Chattanooga will facilitate arrangements.
A private family interment will occur Saturday. The 7 p.m. service on Friday may be viewed live stream at www.metrotab.net.
Because of his love for training spiritual sons and daughters, in lieu of flowers, friends are encouraged to make donations to “Destiny Ministries” to continue the legacy of Dr. Walter Atkinson @ www.walteratkinson.org.