Grayson Atha

Published by Legacy Remembers on Feb. 13, 2024.

Grayson LaVerne Atha, 87, left this world having taken advantage of every minute and made the most of each moment with his family, friends, and parishioners.

He found time to be a devoted husband, father, grandfather, pastor, children's advocate and crusader for social justice.

And he even took time to write part of his own obituary:

"I was born on March 28th,1936, to LaVerne Crane Atha and Elizabeth Taylor Atha. My parents did not have a car, so Doctor Mauer picked my parents up and took them to Mary Rutan hospital in Bellefontaine for me to be delivered.

I quickly found a place with my two sisters and a brother soon to join us. Later in life I was alone, as all the immediate family had died, but by then I had another wonderful family.

My parents moved to 213 East Baird Street, in West Liberty, Ohio when I was two. My siblings and I grew up there and my parents lived there until they died. I continue to own that same home and my family now gathers there throughout the year, especially on major holidays where we make new memories while floating in and out of the memories from days gone by.

I have been blessed with a wonderful family, both immediate and extended. I was not a person who sat around wishing for grandchildren, but when it happened, I experienced life in a wonderful and serendipitous way, through an entirely different lens and I will always be grateful for this experience and for these six wonderful persons, to whom I am known as Yay-yay. I always have been, and always will be thrilled by them, and who they are as unique and beautiful humans. Harris, Haviland, Lucas, Chelsea, Cameron, and Simeon-know that you are loved fully and unconditionally by your Yay-yay whether I am here on this earth, or in other locations beyond not listed on Google Maps.

I have never been, nor do I plan to be an angel or fall into the arms of Jesus. But I do know that the God who got me here-the one that breathed into me the breath of life, and sustained me all these years, that Creator has something in store for me-therefore I have no fear."

Grayson grew up in West Liberty, Ohio, and attended Taylor University in Upland, Indiana, where he met his wife Wende. He introduced himself by approaching her in the campus library to ask her permission to borrow a pen, although he had 8 pens already lined up in his shirt pocket. Wende fell for this ploy-and for him-and an amazing 65-year-long love story followed.

He attended Goshen College Biblical Seminary and the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, where he was the first ever graduate of the seminary in 1963.

Subsequently, he began his life's work as a United Methodist pastor in the West Ohio United Methodist Conference for over 65 years. He tackled a number of different causes based on the needs of communities in which he was serving, including civil rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and other human rights causes. He has always encouraged his children, grandchildren, colleagues, and parishioners to stand up for those in their midst who need a voice at the table-and he has always, without fail, led by example.

Grayson was also a friend of, and advocate for, children. He started a children's library at Mt. Zion UMC in Cincinnati, and made children's moments a central and exciting part of each of his church services-realizing that he had a unique opportunity to convey to each child that they were special, and loved by God beyond measure. Grayson always requested extra-long extension cords for his microphones so that he could have the freedom to conduct children's moments outside the church as needs arose to discuss God's miracles of nature.

A favorite family story is that one day, several elementary age children rang the doorbell of the parsonage when Grayson was serving at Grace Church in Norwood. When Grayson's mother-in-law answered the door, one of the very young children inquired, "Is Gwayson allowed to come out and play?"

In 1963, Grayson and a close colleague, Jim Martin, worked with Jim and Virginia Snavely to establish International Child Care (ICC). ICC started Grace Children's Hospital, which is dedicated to the care of tubercular children, opened in 1967 in Port au Prince, Haiti. ICC's efforts to vaccinate children for, and treat tuberculosis, impacted the trajectory of that disease in Haiti.

Grayson was often ahead of his time in pushing for social causes and more than once he ended up ruffling feathers in the name of justice. During his tenure at King Avenue, the Pastor-Parish Relations committee requested that he be removed from his role as pastor of the church following a Sunday morning children's moment during which he mentioned that "Families are not always the same, some have a mom and a dad, others have just a mom OR a dad, and some families have two moms, or two dads."

The decision asking for Grayson to leave was eventually reversed, and King Avenue UMC continues to be an open, safe, inclusive, and loving congregation, welcoming all with "open minds, open hearts, and open doors." One of his greatest passions and contributions to his hometown was spearheading the West Liberty Historical Society's revitalization of the West Liberty Opera House. He worked closely with a team of people for many years to help make this dream a reality.

During his time in ministry, he served a variety of United Methodist Churches, including the Haviland Charge, Norwood Grace, Lebanon UMC, Mt. Zion in Cincinnati, King Avenue in Columbus, Williams Street in Delaware, and Summit and Gates-Fourth, also in Columbus. He also served as a District Superintendent in the area formerly known as the Findlay District where he made the first cross-racial appointment in the West Ohio Conference. Following this, Grayson was assigned to a cross-racial appointment at Mt. Zion UMC. Grayson was most recently named Pastor Emeritus at King Avenue UMC.

Grayson was preceded in death by his parents and three siblings, Marylin Goldsmith, Sharyn Figley, and Alan Atha. He and Wende have three children who all live in Columbus. Marcus Atha (Kristen), Angelyn Atha, and Holly Atha.

He is survived by six grandchildren, Harris Scott (Ethan), Haviland Atha-Simonton, Lucas Atha, Chelsea Atha, Cameron Atha, and Simeon Atha (Margot).

Beyond his family and friends, Grayson enjoyed classical music and vigorous hymn singing (SING IT!!), being with his family, $2 bills, family events, homemade lemon bars, time with his family, bike riding, marching in the Columbus Gay Pride Parade (with his family), the Columbus Gay Men's Chorus, Irish goodbyes, live theatre (watched with his family), letter writing, ice cream, reading the New York Times, breaking the rules, milk toast, corn mush, extra crispy bacon, and visiting Ireland (with his family, of course), among so much more.

A celebration of life will be held on Saturday, February 17, at King Avenue UMC at 299 King Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43201. Visitation is from 9:30 to 11:00 a.m. with service immediately following. The service will be live-streamed at Donations in honor of Grayson can be made to the West Liberty Historical Society (Opera House-Phase III) at, or King Avenue UMC at