Legacy of Rev. Dr. John W. Garlington Jr.
The late Rev. Dr. John W. Garlington Jr. and his wife Yvonne Garlington are remembered as compassionate social justice activists in Oregon during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Their lives were cut short when the two died in a tragic car accident while traveling in Florida, January 16, 1986. Rev. Garlington was 48, Yvonne, 46. They left behind five children.
The Garlington’s memory and contributions to the greater community can be found in numerous places around Portland.
Cascadia’s Garlington Center, a mental health clinic and social services center located at 3034 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, was named in 1989 in honor of Rev. Garlington and Yvonne.
For decades, Portland’s Maranatha Church has celebrated the Garlington’s memory as part of the annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.
Pastor and Leader
Rev. Garlington moved his family to Portland in 1976 to be pastor of Maranatha Church in Northeast Portland. During his tenure, Rev. Garlington revitalized the inter-racial congregation, boosting membership and involving Maranatha in issues such as the funding of Head Start programs and the establishment of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a state holiday. He also helped lead a funding drive for a new sanctuary to seat more than 1,000 people. The new sanctuary played host to appearances by Jesse Jackson and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu during Garlington’s leadership.
During his nine years in Portland, Rev. Garlington also became a leader and spokesman for social justice in such areas as education, employment, police-community relations and ministries to the poor, hungry and the homeless.
He was president of the Albina Ministerial Alliance, the original chairman of the Police Internal Investigations Auditing Committee to monitor the Portland Police Bureau’s handling of public complaints, and before his death he was due to be installed as the first African American president of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.
Rev. Garlington also helped found North Portland Bible College in 1982.
Compassion for Community
At the Garlington’s memorial, as reported in The Oregonian, friends remembered how Rev. Garlington would call his church a hospital, and remind people they didn’t have to be perfect to come in the doors. They recall him saying that his church was a place for sick people, a place where they could become well and whole.
On March 16, 1986, Governor Vic Atiyeh presented a state proclamation which saluted Rev. Garlington’s “diligence, commitment, tireless efforts and compassion.”
“For seven years John Wesley Garlington Jr. made sizeable contributions to the state of Oregon’s government operations,” the proclamation reads.
In May 1986, Rev. Garlington received a posthumous “Spirit of Portland” award (the second annual) – where Mayor Bud Clark and Commissioner Dick Bogle remembered Garlington as a “healer and a bridge builder.”
Community members marched in the “John and Yvonne Garlington March for Excellence” in support of efforts to create an after-school program. For several years, YMCA of Columbia-Willamette organized a youth camp for teens called the John W. Garlington Jr. Race Relations and Multicultural Leadership Camp at Camp Collins.
Today, Warner Pacific College remembers the Garlington’s with an annual scholarship “for students making significant contributions to diversity in their school community.”
Rev. Garlington and Yvonne are remembered fondly as humble, high-energy collaborators with a strong sense of family and community. They left behind five children – the youngest sons still in high school at the time – John W. III, Gayle, Athena (“Tina”), Mark and Matthew. In the years since, the Garlington children have contributed to the legacy and influence of their parents by participating in annual celebrations and other community events.