Obituary – Rev. Ernest Eugene (Gene) Efird

Rev. Ernest Eugene (Gene) Efird, of Little Rock Ark., left his earthly life and returned to his creator on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, at the age of 90. Gene was born on Dec. 17, 1932, to Ernest Miles and Jewell Hall Efird in Little Rock where he was raised along with his sister Jo Anne. He attended Little Rock Public Schools and graduated from Little Rock Senior High School in 1951 after participating in choir, cheerleading, and wrestling. Gene and his family were active members of Forest Park Methodist Church, now St. Paul United Methodist Church. Gene loved to spend time hiking in the area near his family’s Cantrell Road home and in the woods and around the creek now known as the Kingwood neighborhood. At a young age, he answered the call to ministry. He began his studies at Hendrix College, Conway, Ark., while serving nearby churches. After graduating from Hendrix in 1955, where he had been a resident of the boarding house known as The Robin’s Nest, he spent a year in Oakland, Calif. building cars for Chevrolet. In the Fall of 1956, Gene began his Divinity studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, Tenn. That Fall, while walking to the Wesley Foundation Methodist Fellowship, he met a young nursing student, Gwen Lapham, from Islip, N.Y. They quickly fell in love and married in Islip in June 1957. They honeymooned that Summer while working at Camp Winslow. 

Gene and Gwen then moved into the parsonage of Owen’s Chapel Methodist Church, outside of Nashville, where Gene served as the pastor. During this time they also both finished their studies at Vanderbilt and remained active in the Wesley Foundation. One of Gene’s classmates, Rev. James Lawson, had been recruited by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead the students in the Nashville Student Movement and the Nashville Christian Leadership Council. These groups began the Sit-ins in the Spring of ‘60. After the school expelled Lawson for “encouraging others to break the law”, Gene and other classmates took the non-violence training and joined the sit-ins, including a protest at the school’s administration building which was covered by national media. 

After Gene and Gwen left Nashville in May of 1960 Gene served the Methodist Church in Des Arc. Following a time at Pullman Heights Methodist Church, in Hot Springs, the family moved to Grady where Gene was both the pastor at the Methodist Church and a Chaplain at Cummins Prison. Gene began to be concerned about the incarcerated men and worked to expand Spiritual services there. He saw a need for rehabilitative opportunities for these individuals and began connecting with people who could help make this a reality. He started the Arkansas Release Guidance Foundation, to address the needs of recently released prisoners, while serving the Tillar Charge. In January of 1968, the family moved to Little Rock where Gene was able to open a halfway house for young men which he called The New Life House. He continued this work until January of 1975 when he began serving Henderson United Methodist Church, in Little Rock. Following that appointment, Gene served the UMC church in Sardis, and subsequently the England-Keo charge, before beginning his last appointment at Capitol View UMC in Little Rock. Additionally, Gene, for many years, served as a part-time Chaplain at VA Medical Center. He was able to continue his work as a chaplain in retirement and until the age of 85! Gene was a consummate reader and consumer of information, especially on the topics of theology and History. He had a vast library of beloved books. Gene and Gwen loved the outdoors and Gene was very talented in camping skills. They took many trips together, including a 60th Anniversary trip back to the East Coast and Islip. They enjoyed their retirement at the family home in the Kingwood neighborhood, right next to the creek in which Gene had wandered as a young man. They were married for 65 years. 

Gene was preceded in death by his wife Gwen (d. June 24, 2022), and his parents. He is survived by a daughter Wendy Lynne Efird, of Little Rock; a daughter Debra Sue Efird (Peter Cvietusa), of Denver, Colo.; a son David Gene Efird (Helen Baldridge), of Little Rock; his sister Jo Anne Efird, of Little Rock; and grandchildren Josie Lenora Efird, Lucas Adams Efird, Audrey Grace Cvietusa, and Miles Owen Cvietusa. He also leaves behind a sister-in-law, many nieces and nephews, and a lifetime of good friends! His family misses him but is so grateful for his life, well lived, and all of the people he touched!

A service celebrating his life will be held on Friday, March 31 at 1 p.m. at St Paul UMC (2223 Durwood Rd, Little Rock, AR). Rev. Pam Estes and Rev. Jay Clark will lead the service. Reception to follow.

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