Remembering Marylee Sturgis

By Brent Walker

Marylee Sturgis was an unlikely fighter for religious liberty and church-state separation. We first met when, from time to time, she would drop by BJC’s booth at various Baptist events – usually meetings of the Baptist General Association of Virginia (BGAV). Elderly, unimposing, walking with some difficulty even with the help of a cane, Marylee packed the punch of an incisive mind and broad knowledge of Baptist history and current church-state issues.

Over time, she would call or send paper clippings (no email for Marylee!) about church-state controversies – not just in the Virginia Piedmont region where she lived, but from around the world. She wanted to make sure BJC was aware of the goings-on and was eager to express her opinion.

Marylee always put feet to her words. A charter member of Broadus Memorial Baptist Church in Charlottesville, she served as Chair of the BGAV’s Religious Liberty Committee. By virtue of that office, she was appointed to represent Virginia Baptists on the BJC Board.

I’ll always remember her first board meeting. I was a little concerned about how she – then in her late 70s and physically challenged – would travel from Charlottesville to Washington, D.C.

“No problem,” Marylee said. “I’ll drive.”


“Yes, of course.”

And she did.

She maneuvered her well-traveled, boat-like car into the teeth of Beltway traffic, finding her way to the hotel and meeting site in the heart of D.C. without a hitch – and without GPS!

Marylee passed away at age 87 in 2015. Yes, she put feet to her words in life; and, she put money to her words and deeds in death. Turns out, this frugal, simple-living, retired University of Virginia librarian made the largest testamentary gift BJC has ever received.

In doing so, Marylee’s passion for religious liberty and her championing of the separation of church and state will live on. Testamentary gifts of more than $5,000 go into BJC’s endowment to provide income to support its important work in perpetuity. Many others – including my wife, Nancy, and me – are remembering BJC in our estate plans, thereby joining the James Dunn Legacy Circle ourselves. I hope you will, too.

Marylee inspired us by her life; she astonished us in her death. Not many will be able to make a gift the size of hers. But we all can leave a generous gift within our means to underwrite our support for BJC and its work defending and extending religious liberty for all, even long after we are gone.

 If you have included BJC in your estate plans or would like more information about naming us as a beneficiary of a will, trust or financial account, fill out this simple form or contact Danielle Tyler at [email protected] or 202.544.4226.