Years back, David George and his wife, Allyson, prayed often for his college friend, Travis Collins, who was serving as a missionary with his family in Nigeria.
They prayed for him especially on one specific day — his birthday. It was an easy day to remember.
“His birthday and Allyson’s are the same,” George said.
That rhythm — the one of praying for missionaries on their birthdays — is one long treasured by national Woman’s Missionary Union, but George said he didn’t see it through that lens at the time.
“I can’t say that it was top-of-mind awareness, but I’m sure I had learned it from my mother,” he said.
His mother’s involvement in WMU — plus a summer he spent as WMU’s truck driver right out of college — was his only experience with the organization.
So he was surprised in 2001 when Collins — back from Nigeria and serving as pastor of a church in Kentucky — called him to talk about the possibility of taking on the role of president of the WMU Foundation.
“He was serving on their board, and when he first called me, I thought he was asking for leads,” George said. “Then I realized he was asking if it would be OK if he put my name in there.”
Up until that point, George’s career had included nonprofit work and work in the health care industry, and he had just started his own consulting business. He didn’t really want to shut it down, he didn’t want to get back into fundraising, and he also joked that he wondered how he would tell people he worked for Woman’s Missionary Union.
“After that phone call, Allyson said, ‘What did Travis want?’ I told her, and she said, ‘What did you tell him?’ And I said, ‘I said yes because it was Travis,’” George said.
But it wasn’t long after the interview process started that “everything quickly flipped, and I started realizing ‘I really want this job, but there’s no way they’re going to pick me,’” he said. “I didn’t have the credentials or anything I thought they needed.”
As it turns out, George was exactly what they were looking for — a self-starter who knew business operations.
“Late in 2001, I found out they were going with me, and that was a shock,” he said. “And that began my education and journey with WMU. I learned everything about WMU that I never knew. It was fascinating.”
George retired June 30 and is looking back over the past 21 years with gratefulness.
“It’s been a crazy journey ever since then of learning and engaging with people all across the country and around the world,” he said. “The people have been my favorite part.”
In his early days in the role, he said he wondered how it would go. The WMU Foundation was still relatively new, and many people didn’t know about it yet.
“And so people would say, ‘What do you do? Is it connected to national WMU? What does it do?’ But I was quickly accepted,” George said.
WMU faithful all over got on board with the vision of how the foundation could help supplement the future of national WMU and help further God’s mission around the world through funds, endowments, scholarships, investments and planned giving, he said. “They embraced me from the get-go. I’ve been part of the family ever since.”
Bob Cardinal, current chair of the WMU Foundation, said George’s time at the helm of the foundation has been “outstanding,” and a big part of that is how he’s fit right into that family.
“The financial growth and stability that he has led are one measure of the success the foundation has enjoyed during his tenure,” he said. “But the greatest measure of his role at the foundation is in relationships. The primary relationship has been David’s love of the Lord and his commitment to translate that love to seeing Kingdom missions advanced through the foundation and its partnership with WMU.”
To accomplish this, God gifted George to build strong, personal relationships with staff members, the board, donors, clients, partners and all varieties of stakeholders, Cardinal said.
George said he’s grateful for those relationships and for the way God has blessed the foundation financially.
The foundation had $9.5 million in total assets when he arrived and now stands at over $46 million. But George said he thinks the greatest financial gauge to measure the foundation’s impact is not what they hold but what they give away. They consistently grant more than $2.5 million each year in grants, awards and scholarships, he said.
One project, called Touch Tomorrow Today, has built up each state WMU’s endowment to more than $25,000, with one state getting close to $1 million.
He believes TTT is the “best way to help secure the financial future of all WMU” and directs anyone who would want to help to give to their state’s fund, or to the Bob and Rosalie Hunt Endowment, which supports every state’s TTT.
George said he’s loved seeing God work in this way.
But his journey with the WMU Foundation began to shift when a new reality rocked his family — Allyson was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s in 2016 at age 54. As George began to try to figure out how best to care for her, he felt torn between home and the office.
From there, things escalated. He remembers driving to Tennessee WMU’s annual meeting one day while trying to deal with something back home on the phone and “coming unglued.”
“I was driving down the road crying and thinking, ‘I can’t do this,’ he said. “The board — I won’t say I resigned, but I went to the chair and the vice chair at the time in 2017 and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’”
Around that time he also shared his pain with Rod Marshall, his good friend and president of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries, who has a counseling background. Marshall began talking with the board, and they offered George something that shocked him.
“They said, ‘You know what? David doesn’t need a sabbatical. David will be better if we can figure out a different work schedule for him,’” George said.
So that’s what they did — they worked out a hybrid schedule where he could work some from home and some from the office and take more meetings on the phone instead of traveling.
“The board made a statement that was profound — they said, ‘What kind of an organization would we be if we turned our back on you now at your greatest need?’ And that was transformational for me,” George said.
He said it’s very common for people, especially men, whose spouse is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s to lose their jobs because employers can’t handle the erratic schedules and the lack of ability to be on point all the time.
“I’m so grateful to the board because I don’t know what I would’ve done in 2017 trying to take on a new job when the wheels were coming off at home,” George said.
He also said he’s grateful for God’s grace on the foundation during those years.
“God blessed the organization somehow — we’ve grown every year since 2017 despite what I thought was going to be a major problem,” he said.
He said the board’s support and the help of the foundation’s staff have been an amazing gift, as have the help of consistent caregivers at home.
Passing the torch
As he passes the torch to Peggy Darby, the foundation’s president-elect, at the end of June, he said he’s excited to take a deep breath.
He plans to stay involved in Alabama Baptist life, serving at his church — Shades Crest Baptist in Hoover — and as a volunteer at Encore, a local church-based Alzheimer’s respite ministry. He will also serve on the board of the Alz-heimer’s Association of Alabama and Discovery Clubs.
Sandy Wisdom-Martin, WMU executive director, said his legacy will go on in countless ways, including a gift presented at a June 12 WMU reception for him in New Orleans.
She told him national WMU was giving a financial gift for Kayleigh White, the new director of Baptist Friendship House in New Orleans, to become a national certified trainer in mental health first aid.
Baptist Friendship House, which helps homeless women and children find help and hope, is one of the WMU compassion ministries supported by the foundation and has been special to George and his family for decades. He and Allyson and their children, Katelyn and Kyle, served there in 2006, and he and Allyson celebrated their 30th anniversary there in 2014.
George said his prayer is for Baptist Friendship House “to continue to be the presence of God in a hurting place and for his children and others to know that this is a place where God shows His love for His people.”
Wisdom-Martin said White’s certification “will greatly impact their ministry at the center but also impact the ministry of the churches in New Orleans and the greater New Orleans area, and that legacy in your honor of helping individuals and families and churches respond to mental health challenges will reap benefits for decades to come.”