The Rev. Leonard L. Smalls, 90, of Berwyn, a Baptist pastor who was chaplain of Graterford Prison and who dedicated his life to community service and church leadership, died Monday, July 13, at Paoli Hospital of advanced age.
“He was a strong warrior for the Lord,” said Pastor Charles W. Quann, who worked with Rev. Smalls at a church in Spring House. “He was a source of inspiration to our younger ministers. He led a prison outreach ministry, and he had a deep concern for social justice. Many churches were blessed by his presence.”
A native of White Plains, N.Y., he was the son of Henry Michael and Selena Hamilton Smalls. He graduated from White Plains High School, served in the Army, and received an honorable discharge.
He graduated from Virginia Union University, and earned a master of divinity degree from the now-defunct Temple University School of Divinity. He was ordained in 1956.
While called to the clergy, he at the same time was active in social programs that utilized his skills in leadership, community development, government relations, and organizational development, his family said in a statement.
His first pastoral assignment was at First Baptist Church of Morton. His second was at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Spring House, where he was the third pastor from 1958 to 1960.
He then served as pastor at several churches in Philadelphia before becoming senior pastor in 2000 at Imani Baptist Church in East Orange, N.J. He retired in 2011.
“Heaven is gaining a true and spirited child of the King,” friends Linda and Andrew Swain of Bloomfield, N.J., said in an online message. “Rev. Smalls has earned his crown, and it is well deserved, for his ministry and teachings have left a lasting mark in the hearts of so many parishioners and students.”
In retirement, he served as an associate minister to Quann at Bethlehem Baptist.
Rev. Smalls participated in the successful 1968 effort to open Girard College to African Americans and establish a formal Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Philadelphia. “He has a long record of social justice activities. He never forgot where he came from. In his 90 years, he lived a life of passion,” Quann said.
Rev. Smalls’ preaching enriched Quann’s interpretation of “speaking about God and what it means to be his servant.”
“He was very supportive of me,” Pastor Quann said. “I’m a better person because of him.”
Starting in 1959, Rev. Smalls was a prison chaplain at Graterford. He was among the first Black prison chaplains, his family said. He took a hiatus and returned to Graterford as chaplain in 1993.
He created his Rescu-Find Program, preparing inmates within 18 months of release for reentry into society. He helped them reconcile with their families through counseling, and emphasized education, training, self-analysis, and spiritual growth.
He served on boards of directors of various organizations and was recognized with the Salvation Army Other Award in 1977, East Orange Clergy’s Outstanding Community Service Award, the American Clergy Leadership Award, and the 2019 Righteous Warrior Award from Bethlehem Baptist.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Rev. Smalls became active in the civil rights movement. He also helped found Haven House, a community-based social service organization with a pharmacy at its core that provided holistic medical services to Philadelphia families.
In his spare time, he enjoyed playing golf.
He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Evelyn F. Smalls; son Timothy; daughters Lynda-Selena Smalls and Tiffanie Fennell; two brothers; and nieces and nephews. His first wife was Edna Smalls. They divorced. She died earlier, as did a grandson.
There will be a viewing from noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 22, and again from 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday, July 23, at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 712 Penllyn Pike, Spring House, Pa. 19477. Services will be livestreamed at 11 on Thursday. Burial is private.