William J. “Bill” Cumbie, 83, a former president of the Baptist General Association of Virginia who as executive director of the Mount Vernon Baptist Association (now NorthStar) played a central role in the growth of its member congregations over 30 years, died Feb. 19 at Greenspring Village retirement community in Springfield of complications of a stroke.
Cumbie had been pastor of First Baptist Church in Annandale for nine years, until 1957, when he was selected to be the first executive director of the then new Mount Vernon Baptist Association.
The association, headquartered in Alexandria, was a fellowship of BGAV churches in Arlington and Fairfax counties and the cities of Fairfax, Falls Church and Alexandria. It was later merged into the NorthStar association of churches.
Cumbie, whose small and slender build belied his skills as a forceful orator, helped coordinate the association's strategies to establish churches to accommodate the population boom in Northern Virginia's suburbs.
During his tenure, the association grew from 28 to 72 churches, including a number of congregations serving the rapidly increasing Vietnamese, Korean and Latino immigrant communities.
Interracial church relations emerged as a crucial issue, especially after the 1968 riots in Washington.
“He felt passionately about a oneness of brothers and sisters in Christ across racial, cultural and national lines,” his daughter Elizabeth C. Fogg said.
He organized relief efforts to help those affected by the riots and worked to develop social ministries for inner-city residents in Alexandria, including after-school tutoring for children, food and clothing drives, and classes on nutrition and parenting.
Although he retired from the Mount Vernon Baptist Association in early 1988, he continued to work with the BGAV. He served as its president in 1976 and was a parliamentarian for 35 years, until 2000.
He also regularly attended the convocations of the Baptist World Alliance, held every five years, and was special assistant to the alliance's general secretary in 1970, 1975 and 1980.
Cumbie, a longtime Springfield resident, was born in Macon, Ga. He was 2 years old when his father, a railroad conductor, died, and afterward he grew up in a children's home.
Some of his earliest and most powerful memories were of his days attending a Baptist church, said Fogg, who herself was elected BGAV president—probably the only time a father and daughter have each served as presidents of a Baptist state convention. “By the time he was 9 years old, he decided he wanted to be a Baptist minister,” she said.
Cumbie, who spent his high school years in San Diego, graduated from Baylor University in Waco, Tex., and received a bachelor of divinity degree from what was then Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa. In 1973, he received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from the University of Richmond.
While completing his studies at Eastern Baptist, he served as assistant pastor of the First Baptist Church of Silver Spring. There he met Catherine L. Inscoe, whom he married in 1948.
That year he was ordained and became pastor of the First Baptist Church of Annandale.
His work with the Mount Vernon Baptist Association led to other leadership positions. He was a parliamentarian of the Southern Baptist Convention and a trustee of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
In retirement, he was an interim pastor at several churches in the Washington area and an adjunct instructor of Baptist history at Averett University's higher education center in Falls Church.
In addition to his wife of 58 years, Catherine Cumbie of Springfield, and his daughter of Richmond, survivors include three children, James E. Cumbie of Baltimore, Rebecca C. Sykes of Wingate, N.C., and Judith C. Seltz of New York; a brother, L. Andrew Cumbie of Leesburg; and 10 grandchildren.