There are people walking the earth who talk about helping children and young adults, and then there was Rev. Bob Porterfield, who really did it.
Porterfield, who battled cancer through much of his later life, died early Tuesday. He was 83.
Porterfield was 5 feet 4 inches tall – maybe. But his life is almost impossible to measure because of the vastness of his service.
He did not talk much about what he did over six decades of service, because he was too busy doing it.
Saving abused and neglected children. Ministering to teens and young adults. Rebuilding old houses where the elderly and broke lived in poverty. Feeding the hungry. Opening his church to other congregations who needed space.
“When God said, ‘Be a giver,’ Bob Porterfield gave his whole life,” said the Rev. Mark Bradley, senior pastor at Rock Hill’s Second Baptist Church, where Porterfield had been senior pastor for years and where he served until his death.
“The man gave all.”
In 1970, Porterfield and two other area pastors – Rev. Gene Norris and Rev. James Freeman – established York County’s Children’s Attention Home, a refuge for abused and neglected children. The idea developed after Porterfield, then a young Baptist preacher, saw a tiny child in a waiting room at a prison with no parents and no hope. He saw courts with kids without parents.
He refused to allow children who had been removed from abusive homes to grow up alone.
More than 7,500 kids later, the home is stronger than ever. Its programs include a shelter for children referred from the state Department of Social Services, independent living guidance, an on-campus charter school and more. In 2009, Porterfield was named an “Angel in Adoption” by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.
“You do what you can to help the people who need it most,” Porterfield said when he received the award. “The thing I am most proud of is how the Attention Home has grown to meet greater needs. More children are served. That’s all that matters.”
The Rock Hill home became a model for others around the state and nation. It all started with Porterfield’s caring about kids. He remained on the home’s board of directors right up until he died.
“Bob Porterfield wanted every child to be loved, to be safe, and he built a legacy that will last forever,” said Nicki Nash, past chairwoman of the home’s board of directors. “His mission was to protect children, to give those children hope and love.
“He didn’t talk about it. He did it.”
Cheryl Fortner-Wood, the board’s current chairwoman, called Porterfield “a humble servant,” dedicated to the children the home houses and serves.
For decades, Porterfield was the minister for Winthrop University’s Baptist Student Union. He counseled hundreds of students who cried when away from home for the first time, helped them stay in school, pushed them forward with love and guidance to careers in teaching, medicine, law, science, business and more.
He spent his whole life showing that religion and race were to be celebrated and shared.
When the nearby, predominantly black Bethel Baptist Church learned a few years ago that its sanctuary had been deemed unsafe, Porterfield led the charge to open Second Baptist’s sanctuary so the Bethel faithful had a place for worship. The two congregations still meet in the same sanctuary, while Bethel raises money to pay for a new church.
Porterfield was a mainstay for decades with the Baptist building group that repaired crumbling homes for people in need, chaired the York County Cancer Association board and raised money for them through events such as a hot-dog-eating contest at the Ebenezer Grill.
He would arrive in his plaid shirt and accept donations written from checkbooks. He collected dollars and change dropped in empty pickled egg jars.
Porterfield was a pastor, but he wore work pants and suspenders, and often a tool belt.
He would remind people that Jesus was a carpenter, then climb a ladder to repair a hole in a ceiling.
Bob Porterfield fixed roofs and hearts equally.
▪ Bob Porterfield’s family will receive friends from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday at Greene Funeral Home Northwest Chapel, 2133 Ebenezer Road, Rock Hill.
▪ A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church, 481 Hood Center Drive, Rock Hill.