Rev. Thomas Martin Leonard Wade

July 25, 1934 - February 2, 2021

The Rev. Thomas Martin Leonard Wade died February 2, 2021. He was 86 years old. He was preceded in death by his parents, Thomas Vandiver Hill Wade and Clydia Sara Ann Sharp Wade.

The Chattanooga, Tenn. native was bigger than life, both physically and in personality. As a child, he had severe asthma that limited his ability to play outside. His doctor suggested that he learned to wiggle his ears. Tom took the advice to heart and entertained generations of children by wiggling his ears independently of one another and by hooting like an owl.

The first child he entertained was his younger brother, Grady Lamar Wade (Chattanooga,) who survives him. Tom could not have been prouder of his little brother. Anyone who ever knew Tom got to hear about Grady and his accomplishments.

Tom overcame his youthful physical limitations and went on to play basketball at Warren Wilson College. He also attended Alderson-Broaddus College, where he met the love of his life, Betsy Hill Wade, to whom he was married 63 years and survives him.

He was a graduate of Chattanooga High School, Warren Wilson College, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He loved learning and never stopped, from travelogues at the Tivoli Theatre, to continuing education, to watching Jeopardy, to stopping to read both sides of Every. Single. Historical. Marker. along any road he travelled, much to the consternation of his three daughters, Debi Wade Jordan (Bowling Green), Pam Wade Kenner (Crossville, Tenn.), Sara Wade Abell (Owensboro,) and honorary daughter Judy Bolender (Williamsburg, Ohio.)

His grandchildren were the jewels in his crown. Emilee Milburn Pierson (McKinney, Tex.,) Bartholomew Wade Kenner (spouse Missy Kenner, Linwood, Kan.,) Thomas Edward “Ted” Gray (Bowling Green, Ky.,) Christopher Martin Abell (Owensboro,) Bailey Joanna Jordan (fiancé Chase Warner, Bowling Green, Ky.,) and Leah Elizabeth Abell (Owensboro.) Five great-grandchildren, two nieces, a nephew, also were blessed to have Popi in their lives. Sons-in-law Ronnie Abell and B.J. Jordan, along with their families, were special to him. His beach family, family camp friends, Tennis House friends, and so many, many more were cherished by him.

The family asks that friends share memories of Tom at James H. Davis Funeral Home’s website at or on his Facebook page. We will love and cherish them.

Over his lifetime he served many churches – South Fork Presbyterian and Bethel Union Presbyterian in Marion County, Ky.; Northside Presbyterian in Chattanooga, Tenn.; First Presbyterian and St. Andrew Presbyterian in Owensboro; First Presbyterian in Huntsville, Tenn.; Erwin Presbyterian in Erwin, Tenn.; and Salem United Church of Christ in Huntingburg, Ind. His boyhood church home was Second Presbyterian in Chattanooga. He retained his membership in Holston Presbytery in eastern Tennessee. Since his retirement from the ministry, he attended Central Presbyterian Church (Owensboro.)

He was often over the top but had a passion for people and championed those whom he loved and their causes.

His service to others was wide ranging and included mission trips to the mountains of eastern Kentucky, transporting people to medical treatments, working with mentally ill, counseling, and much more.

He was extremely active in the Civil Rights Movement. In summers in high school, he worked as a food server at the Highlander Center, which was then in Monteagle, Tenn. Highlander Center was a training center at the time for many activists – prior to the acts for which they are known. As he served food to people like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and others, he listened, learned, and took that information to heart as he became instrumental in race relations in Chattanooga and Atlanta.
Another aspect of his ministry was his service on the Presbyterian Appalachian Broadcasting Council. The Council worked with country musicians such as Kris Kristofferson, Archie Campbell, and Tom’s college roommate, Billy Edd Wheeler, who recorded radio spots.

Due to COVID 19, there will be no visitation or funeral at this time as Tom would not want anyone in his life to contract it at a gathering for him. A celebration of life will be planned at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Puzzle Pieces or the HELP office