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Bishop Willie Lee Lamb died on June 22, 2024, at the age of 100, in Akron, Ohio, where he lived with one of his daughters. Lamb was buried on July 9 at Tom Biggs Holler, near McRoberts, in Letcher County, Kentucky.

The poet Jorge Luis Borges writes that with every death the world loses a witness. Bishop Lamb has seen a lot. He grew up in abject poverty as one of 15 children in the McRoberts coal camp in eastern Kentucky. At 16 he began working in the coal mines and at 18 was drafted into World War II. He took part in the invasion of France, was a canteen officer in the occupying armies in Germany and was part of the expedition to liberate the Jewish concentration camps.

A union member for 36 years, he was a man of faith who visited the sick and inmates in hospitals and prisons in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee until his mid-90s. Lamb was a bishop of the Church of God Militant Pillar and Ground of the Truth, a denomination with close ties to McRoberts.

The following is the obituary that the Lamb family has included in the funeral home’s program.

–Dee Davis, Editor

Willie Lee Lamb Sr. was born on June 6, 1924, to Alexander Lamb Sr. and Maggie (Gray) Lamb. He was born, raised, and lived in McRoberts, Kentucky for 96 years. At age 7, Willie was diagnosed with rickets. He also suffered from a severe speech impediment: stuttering. Children mocked him when he spoke and laughed at him. His mother told him that he could do anything a person with “common sense” could do. This motherly advice gave him the strength to overcome insurmountable obstacles in life.

Willie, his sister Odessa, and his brother Leonard sold peanuts and sandwiches as children to supplement the family income. During the Great Depression, the household consisted of two adults and 15 children. Willie and his two siblings always came up with ways to make ends meet.

At age 16, Willie was hired by Bethlehem Steel to work underground in the coal mines alongside his father. The U.S. Army drafted him at age 18, and the Queen Mary took him to Europe to fight in World War II. Under the leadership of General George S. Patton and General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Willie participated in the June 6, 1944, assault on Adolf Hitler’s forces in Normandy and later in the Battle of the Bulge. Willie vividly remembered the gas chambers and the Jewish corpses stacked like sardines. He fed the hungry Jewish and German children, obeying God’s Word to feed the hungry.

When he returned from World War II, his job in the coal mines was waiting for him. He worked in the mines for 36 years, doing various jobs. He was the first African-American electrician underground. Silicosis forced him to retire early.

Bishop Willie Lamb (via Facebook)

Willie was a member of the United Mine Workers of America and a dedicated advocate for miners, helping many obtain black lung benefits, mediating wage disputes, and fighting for better health benefits.

In 1946, 22-year-old Willie met a beautiful woman named Joanna Skipper. Love captured the bishop’s heart at first sight. On December 24, 1948, Willie married Joanna. The couple had seven children: Willie L. Lamb Jr. (Gwen), John A. Lamb Sr. (Valorie), Madaline M. Sanders, James R. Lamb Sr. (Teresa), Gary L. Lamb Sr. (Denese), Walter G. Lamb (Linda Faye), Debrill Lamb (Keshia), and adopted daughter/granddaughter Erin Lamb. Willie and Joanna were baptized in the name of Jesus and received the baptism of the Holy Ghost at the Church of God MPGT in McRoberts, Kentucky. Bishop Earl Walker was the overseer. After his death, Mother Alma Walker became overseer.

Elder Lamb said God told him to build a church. He built the church and served as pastor until he moved to Columbus, Ohio, in May 2021.

He was very active in his community: he served on the Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation Planning Committee, the Letcher County Judge Advisory Board, chaplain at eight hospitals, nine nursing homes, and three prisons in Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. In April 2022, Bishop Lamb received the Carolyn Sundy Award for Leadership and Community Service from the East Kentucky Leadership Foundation. Willie was named a Kentucky Colonel, and March 22, 2024, was declared Bishop Willie Lamb Day by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. He had a small home improvement business installing interior bathrooms, adding rooms to homes, and doing repairs.

He was preceded in death by Joanna (Skipper) Lamb, Willie L. Lamb Jr., Alexander and Maggie Lamb and 12 siblings: Odessa Estell, Otis P. Lamb, Opal Lamb, Leonard Lamb, Anna B. Smith, Irene Ward, Donald Lamb, Elliot Lamb, Rosalyn Walker, Betty Rodgers, Beulah Williams and Ellen Jones. Bishop Lamb is survived by a sister, Sally Miller, a brother, Kenneth Lamb, six children, 24 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren, two great-great grandchildren, a host of nieces, nephews, relatives, saints and friends.

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