John Workman: pastor, writer, former AUM editor, 1927-2014

John WorkmanKnown most widely for his work as the Arkansas Gazette’s first full-time religion editor and columnist, the Rev. John S. Workman, a United Methodist elder and former editor of the Arkansas United Methodist, died Jan. 9, 2014. He was 86.
He was born in Fayetteville in 1927 to the Rev. James W. Workman and Meta Sue Sparks Workman of Fordyce. After serving in the U.S. Army from 1945-47, then graduating from Hendrix College and Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, he became a Methodist pastor—part of a five-generation family legacy reaching back to Methodism’s early days.
He served in pastoral ministry for two decades, beginning in 1953 with the Newark/Oil Trough Charge in the North Arkansas Conference, and continuing with appointments at Cabot UMC, Berryville UMC, Sylvan Hills UMC Sherwood and Markham Street UMC Little Rock.
In 1973, Workman began his six years at the helm of the Arkansas United Methodist. According to Nancy Britton’s book Two Centuries of Methodism in Arkansas, he became known for his strong social consciousness, commitment to a free press and his thoughtful, plain-spoken editorials.
“John Workman was a steady, thoughtful and conscientious man who shared his considerable gifts with the church and all the people of Arkansas,” said Jane Dennis, editor of the Arkansas United Methodist from 1988 to 2009. “He had a terrific sense of humor and a passion for tolerance, peace and justice. He was never afraid to write from the heart, and that’s what endeared him to us.”
Writing from the heart also endeared him to readers of the Arkansas Gazette. In 1979, he took a leave of absence from appointment within the United Methodist Church to work for the statewide daily newspaper as its religion editor. He soon became Arkansas’ best-known religion columnist, a respected and influential voice on religion and its importance in American life.
“John was an outstanding person, a leader in the Methodist Church and a leader in the field of journalism for many years,” the Rev. Frank Jones of Conway told the Log Cabin Democrat. Jones first met Workman when they were students at Hendrix College.
Although he often drew criticism for writing on controversial subjects, Workman had a reputation for fair and evenhanded reporting. He was best known, however, for his columns and opinion pieces, which were thoughtful, undogmatic and often characterized by a self-deprecating humor. A selection of these materials appeared in Workman’s three books: Fireflies in a Fruit Jar, Open Windows and Travels in a Tree House.
Arguing strongly that all topics had a religious dimension, Workman broadened the Gazette’s religion coverage to include state and national politics, American foreign policy, gun control, capital punishment, the proliferation of nuclear arms, the equal rights amendment, abortion, race relations and an array of other social issues.
“He was always one to push back boundaries, and he was very witty about it,” Jones said.
Workman held honorary doctorates from both of Arkansas’ United Methodist-affiliated colleges, Hendrix and Philander Smith; and in 1992 Hendrix awarded him the Ethel K. Millar Award for Religion and Social Awareness. He also received national recognition for his work, and was inducted into the United Methodist Association of Communicators Hall of Fame in 1993.
He is survived by brothers James W. Workman, Jr. of Arlington, Wash., and Walter E. Workman of Kerrville, Texas; his wife of 64 years, Ruth Elizabeth Teague Workman of Conway, and their children: John S. Workman, Jr. of Ridgewood, N.J.; Paul Steven Workman of Owasso, Okla.; Susan Workman Jones of Miami, N.M.; and Charles M. Workman of Valeyres-sous-Montagny, Switzerland; seven grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter. 
A memorial service was held Jan. 18 at First United Methodist Church Conway. In lieu of flowers, the family would welcome memorial gifts made to First United Methodist Church Conway, Hendrix College or Heifer International.
Michelle Corbet of the Log Cabin Democrat contributed to this report.