Bishop Thomas L. Westbrook was remembered Monday night as a civil rights leader in Tacoma, a decorated World War II Army veteran and a faithful pastor who always did his best.
With words of tribute and spirited singing, more than 800 people celebrated the life of Westbrook, pastor of New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ on the Hilltop, who died Oct. 3 at age 89.
Eddie Hill, 41, said Westbrook had been his pastor for Hill’s entire life.
“He was all in,” said Hill, a minister for New Jerusalem’s youths. “He was 100 percent a ‘God man.’ He poured his heart and soul into the ministry.”
Kathy McCain, who has been part of the church for more than four decades, recalled how Westbrook would read the Bible and pray after he came in the office. He’d talk about the work of the church and then share some war stories as well.
He told her to tell people upon his death that he loved them and did his best.
“Bishop did the best that he could for us,” McCain said.
Westbrook started New Jerusalem Church of God in Christ in 1957. He became a bishop in 1977 and oversaw the denomination’s Washington State Jurisdiction, which has about 70 congregations.
Monday night’s service was held at Life Center in Tacoma to accommodate the crowd.
Westbrook died in a hospital in St. Louis Oct. 3 after falling ill on a flight from Sea-Tac Airport. Westbrook, who took part in the D-Day invasion, was to catch an honor flight in St. Louis for veterans and visit the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., for the first time.
Westbrook was the area’s second African-American church patriarch to die recently. The Rev. Joseph A. Boles died Sept. 23 at age 90. Boles’ memorial service was Saturday.
Westbrook was mourned and praised not only as a pastor. The Rev. Gregory Christopher, president of the Tacoma branch of the NAACP, called Westbrook a “civil rights giant” who advocated for living-wage jobs for minorities and built affordable housing for low-income people.
The Rev. Arthur Banks, president of the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance and a Baptist pastor, called Westbrook “Washington’s bishop.”
“He was my bishop,” Banks said.
Tacoma City Council member Victoria Woodards read a proclamation declaring Monday to be “Bishop T.L. Westbrook Day,” noting his five Bronze Stars as a combat veteran, his work against discrimination and his Christian ministry.
“This day,” Woodards told the cheering crowd, “is for all of us to celebrate because he’s already celebrating.”
Westbrook had continued to attend New Jerusalem, but he stopped preaching after his wife, Lois, died in 2012. In addition to his 11 children, Westbrook is survived by 31 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.
National leaders of the Church of God in Christ will conduct a more formal funeral service at noon Tuesday, also at Life Center. Presiding Bishop Charles Blake, of Los Angeles, will be the speaker.
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647