The Rev. Dr. John Ruffin Manley, a longtime pastor at First Baptist Church and community leader, died Sunday at age 91, church officials said Monday.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Manley, a native of Murfreesboro, was born in 1925 and graduated from Shaw University in Raleigh with a degree in art and divinity in 1949. The university later awarded him an honorary doctorate. He also attended UNC and earned a master’s degree in theology in 1967 from Duke University Divinity School.
In September 1946 First Baptist Church of Chapel Hill called Manley, then a sophomore at Shaw University, to lead its flock. Sixty years later, Manley asked that the tickets to his anniversary banquet be printed with the words “celebrating 60 years and reaching for 70.”
Manley celebrated that anniversary this year, five years after retiring from a full-time role with the church. He was the church’s longest-serving pastor, continuing to serve since 2011 as its first pastor emeritus.
Manley was one of the few men around who could make him feel young, said U.S. Rep. David Price. Price and his wife Lisa first met Manley when they moved to Chapel Hill in 1973.
He got to know Manley better over the years, Price said, and was asked to speak at the 60th celebration and a few times from the pulpit. Manley was “a very hospitable, warm and welcoming pastor” who lit up the room, he said.
“He had a huge amount of energy,” Price said. “I think he had a very positive outlook on life and conveyed that to everybody around him in a genuine way. He liked people and showed it. He had a way of bringing out the best in people.”
Manley’s first visit to the First Baptist Church pulpit was rocky, the pastor recalled in a 2006 interview. He arrived for the service to find some members had asked another pastor to preach and have dinner at several homes after church. Manley returned the next week, he said, to find an unresponsive congregation.