McKinnon lived his life as ‘true servant leader’

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The Rev. Jim McKinnon believed that everyone deserved an opportunity and that everyone was a child of God.

“He not only believed it, he lived it,” said Kathie Davis, longtime friend and executive director of the Wilson Family YMCA. “He would never, ever turn his back on anyone.”

McKinnon, who pastored First Presbyterian Church in Wilson for nearly three decades, died Sunday. He was 77.

And while the man friends and colleagues described as truly a man of God will be missed tremendously, he will forever be remembered as someone with a true servant’s heart.

“Everything that he did reflected God’s love,” said Davis, who worked by McKinnon’s side for 20 years at the church as the business administrator. “He was the same with everybody. He wasn’t a different person in different settings. He was the same genuine community servant. He loved everyone and brought out the very best in everyone.”

McKinnon graduated from Union Seminary and entered the ministry in 1968 as associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville. He was the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Morehead City from 1970-74 and pastor of the Sharon Presbyterian Church in Charlotte until 1980. He then pastored First Presbyterian Church here until his retirement in 2006.

Declining health never stopped him from sharing God’s message of faith, hope, love and kindness to others. He continued to serve part-time in Pinetops and preached from his scooter at Bethany Presbyterian Church until the week prior to his death.


McKinnon was not only a leader behind the pulpit but worked tirelessly behind the scenes throughout the Wilson community in an effort to make it a better place for people from all walks of life.

“He understood that everyone needed to be heard, accepted, guided and loved,” Davis said. “He had this gift of putting his finger on the pulse of every issue. He was as close to Jesus as anybody could be. He was such a true servant leader who understood unconditional love and lived it and practiced it every single day.”

Throughout the years, McKinnon worked with various human service organizations in Wilson. He was one of several pastors who started Hope Station and served on the county’s Department of Social Services board for many years.

McKinnon started a home-delivered meals program from First Presbyterian Church. He received accolades from various clubs and organizations here and was also recognized on the state level. McKinnon was a recipient of the Service to Mankind Award from the Sertoma Club of Wilson.

While he received much recognition, McKinnon, a humble man, never wanted the spotlight. He championed many causes throughout the Wilson community just by being himself and working quietly to make things better.

“He was just doing what he was called to do,” Davis said. “And that was just to be a man of God.”


McKinnon pastored state leaders, including former Gov. Jim Hunt and former N.C. Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Betty McCain, but, at the same time, reached out to those in need in the Wilson community.

“Jim McKinnon was one of the kindest, most helpful persons I have ever known,” Hunt told The Wilson Times Tuesday.

Hunt said McKinnon saw his mission to be not only a leader in the First Presbyterian Church but to also help the Wilson community be the “best place it could be for everyone.”

“I can’t remember all the times that people from various churches and faiths told me how much they appreciated and admired the Rev. McKinnon,” Hunt continued. “His caring and helping of people with needs continues in the wonderful work of his wife, who is the leader in our community to alleviate hunger.”

McKinnon is survived by his wife of 51 years, Louise, who in 2012 spearheaded the organization Children’s Hunger Elimination of Wilson, or CHEW. The nonprofit and all-volunteer program provides weekend food bundles for chronically hungry students within Wilson County Schools.

Louise McKinnon has said her husband mentored her as she coordinated the program that has touched hundreds of lives for Wilson’s most vulnerable children.

Jim McKinnon is survived by their two sons, who are also Presbyterian minsters, James III “Trip” of Brunswick, Georgia, and John of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.


McCain said not only was McKinnon a wonderful man, but he meant so much to so many.

“I bet there is a stir in heaven,” McCain said. “He was a wonderful soul.”

She said so many people came to McKinnon for guidance and that he did more helping people one-on-one than anyone she had ever known. She said he would also show up when he was most needed.

“He didn’t need to be sent for,” McCain said. “He was always there. He is just going to be missed so much.”

And what will people remember most about McKinnon?

“His human kindness,” McCain said.


Davis said McKinnon was a giving, genuine person.

“He taught those of us who worked with him; it was our responsibility to meet people where they were and try to work with them and be with them on their level,” Davis said. “He was the counselor to everyone.”

She said McKinnon walked the walk and talked the talk.

“The resonance of his beautiful voice would make everyone think it was going to be OK and that you deserve God’s love whether you believed it or not,” Davis said.

She said the Wilson community is much richer because of McKinnon.

“It didn’t matter if you went to his church,” she said. “All of Wilson was his flock.”


The family will receive friends from 5 to 8 p.m. today in Clark Hall at First Presbyterian Church and also following the service on Thursday, which will be held at 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church in Wilson.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that memorials be sent to the Children’s Hunger Elimination of Wilson, P.O. Box 728, Wilson, NC 27894.