The Rev. Walter E. Paige, pastor of one of the oldest and largest churches in East Baltimore for 39 years until his retirement last year, died Monday of an unknown virus at Johns )) Hopkins Hospital. He was 81.
He became pastor of Faith Baptist Church at 833 N. Bond St., just north of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, in 1955. Bernita Paige, his wife of 16 years, and congregation members said he helped Faith Baptist build a Christian Education Center, and he led other renovations at the church.
The church, founded in 1891, has about 1,800 members, up from about 500 members when Dr. Paige took over.
The church is in one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, and under Dr. Paige's leadership, it began offering such programs as a soup kitchen, Christmas parties and spring festivals for children, and a bowling league for young people.
Dr. Paige's church work also took him abroad, including trips to Israel, Greece, England and France, his wife said.
From 1971 to 1973, he was president of the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention, a national organization that helps the needy abroad. While president of the local chapter, Dr. Paige helped send money to the needy in Liberia and Ghana.
After he retired as pastor of Faith Baptist in 1994, he continued to shepherd his flock, his family said, while the church awaited a new full-time pastor. On occasion, he would preach at weddings and funerals and visit the sick, said a daughter, Vanessa Chambers of Baltimore. The church still is waiting for a permanent minister to replace Dr. Paige, she said.
"He was a dedicated minister, very caring toward the membership," added Rose Coleman, who worked with Dr. Paige for 30 years at the church.
Dr. Paige received many honors. The most recent came in February when Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke chose him as "Outstanding Citizen of Baltimore."
A native of Green Bay, Va., Dr. Paige came to Baltimore about 1937 to look for work and got a job at Kernan Hospital as an orderly. He eventually moved on to Western Electric, where he was an inspector.
But in 1952, Dr. Paige felt called to preach the Gospel, and he began preparing himself, family members said. He attended the Jones-Williams Theological School in Baltimore. He also briefly attended then-Morgan State College and Virginia Union University.
In 1959, he obtained a doctor of divinity degree from the Lynchburg Seminary & College. In 1978, he graduated from Lynchburg with a bachelor of arts degree in church administration. He held memberships in many religious and civic organizations.
Services will be held at noon tomorrow at Faith Baptist Church, 833 N. Bond St. Burial will follow at Arbutus Memorial Park.
In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include another daughter, Kim Nelson of Manchester, N.H.; a sister, Sarah Michaels of Washington, D.C.; two brothers, John Paige of Baltimore and George Paige of Green Bay, Va.; and three grandchildren.