William P. Saum

Reverend William Powell Saum II passed away peacefully on December 18, 2019, in Orangeburg, New York. He was 76.

Bill was born in Springfield, Ohio, and raised in Xenia, Ohio, and Jackson, Mississippi, where he graduated from Provine High School. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1965, then earned master’s degrees at both McCormick Theological Seminary and Princeton Theological Seminary. He also studied at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Inspired by both the civil rights and the peace movements, he spent his career as a minster and as an executive in the Presbyterian Church. After serving churches in Troy, Ohio, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, he became the pastor of Church of Our Savior in West Bloomfield, Michigan, in 1974. The church grew under his leadership, which emphasized putting into practice the Christian value of compassion through programs that welcomed refugees, fought for affordable housing, and built community across racial and religious lines. In 1988, he and his family moved to Pelham, New York, where Bill became the senior pastor at Huguenot Memorial Church. After leading the congregation there for nine years, he became the executive of Newton Presbytery in New Jersey, where he became a trusted and valued mentor to other members of the clergy. He retired in 2006.

He then moved to live full time with his wife Laurie Ferguson in their home on Closter Road in Palisades. He was on the board of the Palisades library and served as chair for a year. He also served on the board of the Learning Collaborative, and taught a popular class on Religion and Politics for many years. He continued to preach, at the Germonds Church in New City and at the Palisades Church.

Bill loved reading, music, and laughter. His home and office were lined with shelves filled with books that reflected his wide- ranging interests: racial justice, the art of Georgia O’Keeffe, the natural history of whales and dolphins, the absurd comedy of Monty Python. His vast record collection was equally diverse, with Bob Dylan’s albums sharing space with those of the Beatles and Bruce Springsteen, the work of jazz legends such as John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, soundtracks of Broadway musicals, and rare recordings of Russian Orthodox Easter music that he brought back from his travels. Anyone who met Bill could expect to be serenaded any time they uttered a phrase that triggered a memory of lyrics from the expansive juke box in his head. He loved puns and word play, watched Johnny Carson and David Letterman religiously, and enlivened meetings, church services, even funerals, with his dry wit and a deep appreciation for silliness.

He is survived by his wife, Laurie Ferguson; by his sister, Linda Mathews; by his first wife, Elaine Saum, and their children, Jeremy Saum and Johanna Almstead; and by his grandchildren, Luke, the son of Jeremy and his wife, Laura, and Tilia and Saige, the daughters of Johanna and her husband, Michael.

A celebration of his life was held at Palisades Presbyterian Church, in Palisades, New York, on December 28, 2019. Donations may be made in Bill’s name to the Carter Center, the Ashoka Foundation, or WBGO.