In Memoriam - Bonneau Dickson
Bonneau Harris Dickson
March 4, 1908 – July 13, 2007
Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, says the Spirit.
They rest from their labors, and their works follow them. rev. 14:13
After a full and victorious life, Bonneau Dickson has returned to his heavenly home. He died “in his hundredth year,” as he liked to say, on July 13 at the Presbyterian Village Rehabilitation Center in Austell, GA, from complications following a broken hip.
The descendant of many generations of Presbyterians from Northern Ireland, Scotland, England, France, and this country, he was born in Pickens, SC, a town named for his ancestor General Andrew Pickens, who fought in the War for Independence.
The seventh child of William Patrick and Louanna Norris Dickson, Bonneau was reared in Seneca, SC. Orphaned in childhood due to the death of his father in a railroad accident and his mother from complications of diabetes, he was taken in by relatives. In spite of extraordinary hardship and being nearly penniless, he graduated in 1929 from Presbyterian College, in Clinton, SC, where he worked for his meals in the college dining hall.
In 1933, he graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary and was the recipient of the Wilds Book Prize, awarded to the student ranked highest academically in the graduating class. He was ordained that same year as a Presbyterian minister by the Presbytery of Charleston, SC, and began his ministry at the New Wappetaw Presbyterian Church in McClellanville, SC. There he met and married, on July 23, 1935, Elizabeth Legare Beckman, his distant cousin through French Huguenot ancestors.
From 1935-1942, he served as Chapels Minister of the Independent Presbyterian Church of Savannah, GA. In the early days of America’s entry into WW II he came to Atlanta, GA, where he served as the pastor of Rock Spring Presbyterian Church for 14 years. Between the manse and the church on Piedmont Road, he planted a Victory Garden during the war and raised a flock of chickens.
He was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree by Presbyterian College in 1956. He served as Executive Secretary of Church Extension for the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta from 1956-1960 and subsequently as Executive Secretary of that presbytery until his retirement in 1973. His prime responsibility was the creation of new churches of the presbytery, which grew during his service to have one of the highest number of members in the world.
Bonneau’s “retirement” in 1973 ushered in an exceptional extension of his ministry. During the first eight years, he was engaged in a succession of fruitful interim pastorates, serving congregations in Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina.
In1981 he joined Columbia’s Development/Public Relations Office. That proved to be a fulfilling late-life vocation for him. Fellow workers became an extended family for him. He cherished the office space, the “Field Representative” title, and his place on the seminary’s Founders list. He was honored with the Alumni/ae Distinguished Service Award in 1992.
Bonneau was a keen gardener.
He loved camellias and served as president of the Camellia Society in Atlanta as well as the Buckhead Men’s Garden Club. He cultivated, air-layered, rooted, and grafted camellias and gave away thousands of them over the course of his involvement with this avocation. He is said to have worried that he was better known for his camellias than his preaching.
After suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for almost 20 years, Bettie Dickson died in 1998. Bonneau cared for her devotedly later in their home until the last few months of her life, a remarkable testimony and example of a Christian marriage.
He is survived by his and Bettie’s three sons: Bonneau H. Dickson, Jr., of Berkeley, CA; William Patrick Dickson, East Lansing, MI; and Sam G. Dickson, Atlanta, GA; and by four grandchildren: Andrew Peterson Dickson, Joshua Peterson Dickson, Elissa Peterson Dickson, and Franzeska Dickson
Bonneau Dickson’s life and ministry were celebrated in a memorial service at Rock Spring Presbyterian Church on July 21. The Rev. Walter Cook ’60 of McClellanville, SC, presided, assisted by the Rev. Deborah Wells ’91.
Memorial gifts may be made to the Bettie and Bonneau Dickson Scholarship Fund at Columbia Theological Seminary.
Information in this tribute is from Bonneau Dickson himself, from his sons, from friends, and from a tribute by Kay Powell published in the July 19, 2007, edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.