Ira Gallaway, Evangelical UM leader, Dies at 91

ira_gallawayBy James V. Heidinger II –

 Dr. Ira L. Gallaway, one of United Methodism’s most influential evangelical leaders over the past four decades, died March 16, 2015, at the age of 91. A memorial service celebrating his life was held March 22 in Estes Chapel on the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. The setting was especially appropriate as Ira had served on the ATS board of trustees for more than 40 years, with several of those years as board chairperson. Dr. Timothy Tennent, current ATS president, led the service, and Dr. Maxie Dunnam, a former president of the seminary, gave the memorial message for his long-time friend and colleague in ministry. Dr. Steve Martyn, a professor at the seminary and long-time friend of the Gallaway family, also participated in the service, as did I.

It would be difficult to overstate the impact Ira had on The United Methodist Church. He answered the call to ministry in 1956 and went to Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. After serving at Highland Park (Dallas), Hutchins, Kirkwood (Irving), and Walnut Hill (Dallas) churches, he became district superintendent of the Fort Worth East district. In 1971, he went to Nashville, Tennessee, to serve as General Secretary of the United Methodist Board of Evangelism. While there, he was influential in bringing future leaders to Nashville, including Maxie Dunnam to the Upper Room and Joe Hale, Eddie Fox, and George Morris to the Board of Evangelism.

In late 1972, Ira began a 17-year appointment as senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in Peoria, Illinois, one of the largest UM churches in the North Central Jurisdiction.  Biblical preaching and regular Bible study were at the heart of his ministry there. Ira hosted the Upper Room’s first Cursillo spiritual retreat at Peoria First, which would soon become the very successful Walk to Emmaus program. A few years later, Ira joined laity from Peoria First to go to Hong Kong, to lead a Walk to Emmaus, which has grown and moved on into mainland China. One of those Peoria lay persons, Mrs. Joan Krupa, recently completed a three-year term as the first female chairperson of the Asbury Seminary board of trustees.

Ira, helped always by his lovely and gifted wife Sally, was a major leader in the cause of Scriptural Christianity and renewal within the denomination. He was a charter board member of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, founded in 1981 by Dr. Ed Robb and others. Then, he and the late L.D. Thomas were key leaders in the founding of the Mission Society for United Methodists in 1984. Ira had shared with me his sense of God’s providence at work as he contacted his friend H.T. Maclin regarding who might give leadership to a new mission-sending agency. To Ira’s surprise, H.T. had just resigned from his jurisdictional staff position with the General Board of Global Ministries, and he said, “Ira, how about me?” And so it was. Ira served for many years on the Mission Society board, and chaired it for several years.

Prior to the 1988 General Conference, Ira also played a key role in enlisting six prominent United Methodist leaders to serve on an invitation committee to invite other pastors from the denomination’s largest churches to come to Houston as an expression of concern about the church’s drift from its traditional doctrine. Some 48 leading pastors from 42 churches in 18 states gathered in Houston and signed what became known as “The Houston Declaration.”

Four years later, Ira was also on the Coordinating Committee for the gathering of United Methodists in January, 1992, hosted by Maxie Dunnam, then senior minister at Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis. That conference resulted in “The Memphis Declaration,” a statement affirming the church’s traditional stance on human sexuality and calling the church to a new emphasis on mission and world-wide evangelism. More than 200,000 United Methodists signed the Declaration.

When the Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church was launched in April of 1994, Ira helped the new movement on a part-time staff basis as it established its headquarters in Indianapolis.

Ira was much involved in helping the Methodist Church in Costa Rica, traveling there often to speak and teach. And in retirement, he and Sally were involved with the Four Corners Ministry with the Navajo Indians.

All of these ministries speak much about Ira’s heart and his leadership in renewal efforts within the denomination. Ira was unquestionably a natural leader. He was fearless, and courageous, and a man of deep conviction, and he lived by those convictions. God used Ira to touch countless lives across the years. This was evidenced by the number of families from First Church Peoria who came all the way to Wilmore, Kentucky for his service.

In the final years of his life, Ira lived at the Wesley Village Retirement Community in Wilmore. While there, he continued to serve as a consultant and emeritus member of Asbury’s Board. He was preceded in death by his wife, Sally, his two sons, Jerry and Timothy, and two grandsons, John and Zachary. He is survived by a daughter, Cynthia, and son, Craig (wife Deb), thirteen grandchildren, and five great grandchildren. The theme for his service of celebration was the theme to be inscribed on his grave stone in Glen Cove Cemetery near Coleman, Texas. It is simply: “Thank You, Lord!”

For this good friend, colleague, and bold leader within The United Methodist Church, we also say a heartfelt “Thank You, Lord!”

James V. Heidinger II is the president emeritus of Good News.    


  1. Dr. Gallaway was an inspiration to me. I came into ministry with the start of the Confessing Movement when we met in Atlanta, GA. I consider him one of my mentors and his excitement and love of preaching still motivates me to this day. I will look forward to seeing him again in eternity and hearing the stories of how Christ was lifted up during our time here on earth. To God be the glory for Ira Gallaway’s life.
    Rev. Byron Alexander — Senior Pastor May’s Chapel UMC, Maiden, NC

  2. Dr. Kent Marrs says

    In 1970 I was about to leave the UMC for a job that would pay twice as much. Somehow Ira knew and sent us to the “Mission to Ministers” at Lake Murray Lodge in Oklahoma. I did not leave the ministry and was Ira and Sally’s pastor while they lived in Georgetown, Texas and it was my privilege to conduct Sally’s graveside service. Loved those two!
    P.S i retired from active ministry in 2010 so it is appropriate to say that Ira had a huge impact on my life.

  3. Rev. Mike Love says

    He was my pastor at Walnut Hill UMC in Dallas (circa 1960s) when I was confirmed and when I first heard my call to ministry. At the age of 12, I felt God’s presence and heard the Holy Spirit speak as he preached the gospel. He preached one Sunday about God’s purpose for our lives. I came to the altar that day and pledged myself to Christ. Later that afternoon I prayed in the solitude of my bedroom and was led to read Proverbs 16:1-3. I dedicated my work to the Lord that day.

    While at Purdue studying engineering (Spring of 1976), I felt compelled to go visit Ira. He was appointed to FUMC of Peoria. I didn’t check with him in advance. There were at the time 5 exits off the interstate in Peoria. I picked the correct one and stopped at a gas station with a phone booth 2 blocks from the parsonage, on the only day of the week that he was at home (sermon prep day). I asked him how I would know I was called to ministry. He said that I would not be able to do anything else that would fulfill me. That was my measure about 16 years ago.

    In the late 1960s Ira left Walnut Hill to become DS of the then, Ft Worth District. He was sent by the Cabinet to Watauga UMC to tell the congregation that the Cabinet had decided to close the church. A woman, Loretta Allen, stood up and begged that the church not be closed. Today, I serve this congregation. Providence? I think so. And in 3 weeks this congregation will experience LCI Consultation.

    My one regret – Ira had told me that he wanted to stand with me when I was ordained. I did not follow through with that. I did get to tell him that I was serving at Watauga. And we know that God’s hand is at work.

    My Dad and Ira were very close. There was a time at Walnut Hill that Ira was going to leave the ministry. Dad was Lay Leader and Finance Chair during the time Ira was there. He held Ira and told him “No.” Later this summer, Dad and I will travel out to Coleman. Dad will be 95 in July. Dad is still active at Walnut Hill (SPR committee and teaching Men’s study based on Cost of Discipleship), and this dedication stems from Ira’s devotion.

    Praise Be to God! Thank you Lord for the gift of Ira Galloway.

  4. Will Giddens says

    I remember all to well, Ira Galloway. He was my minister at Walnut Hill UMC during my childhood. His influence was instrumental in my receiving direction from our Lord. I’ve tried in the past several months to contact him as I’ve retired and wanted to thank him for his influence upon how I’ve led my life. I’ve only just learned of his passing. I’m sure he knows how I feel now.
    My deepest condolences go out to his surviving family. I’ve always loved him very much. He’ll be missed till we’re together again.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.