ROVERBS 22:1 declares, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.” When she went to be with the Lord in 1921, the Church of God Evangel article that eulogized Melissa Murphy was simply titled “Maddox.” Yet, the article penned by General Overseer A. J. Tomlinson vividly described a woman whose faithful service in life assured her a good name at her death.
According to Tomlinson, she was “a light in many homes—always willing to make any sacrifices to wait on the sick, or to help her friends and neighbors, in times of need. No night was too dark, no wind was too cold to keep her from going when duty demanded it. She literally wore herself out in service to others. Scarcely a text in the Bible could be more appropriate here than this one: ‘This woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did’ (Acts 9:36).”
The woman Tomlinson compared to the Bible’s Dorcas was born Margaret Melissa Gay in the mountains of north Georgia in 1847. She grew up in a Baptist home and married Drury Shearer after the Civil War. Together they had six daughters. His family name was given to the schoolhouse where a revival of holiness shook the Camp Creek, North Carolina, community in 1896.
The couple was among the 40 excluded from the Liberty Baptist and Pleasant Hill Baptist churches for “endorsing the modern . . . theory of sanctification.” Undoubtedly they were present in 1900 when a mob of 106 dismantled and burned the meetinghouse where the holiness believers worshiped, and she was one of 16 charter members of the Holiness Church at Camp Creek organized on May 15, 1902, in the home of W. F. Bryant.
Church of God history recognizes her as Melissa Murphy, who hosted the first General Assembly in her home in 1906 and spoke during that meeting on the importance of Sunday schools. Following Drury’s death in 1901, Melissa married James Callaway Murphy in December 1903. Theirs was the first wedding Pastor A. J. Tomlinson officiated after he joined the Holiness Church.
Not long after the first General Assembly, the Murphys relocated to Cleveland, Tennessee, and lived in the house next door to the Tomlinson family. She became a charter member of the North Cleveland Church of God when it was set in order in October 1906.
Regrettably, James Murphy died not long after the first General Assembly. Melissa went on to outlive her third husband, James Tilley, and was married to Caswell Maddox from November 1920 until her death on March 15, 1921. Tomlinson described their marriage as a happy one, and noted that she attended Sunday school and the preaching service as long as she was able.
In his article eulogizing Melissa, Tomlinson described a woman whose life bore witness to her good name. She was “a faithful member, having enjoyed the pleasure of a sanctified life filled with the Holy Ghost.”
He continued, “In the services she was always glad to give her testimony for the Lord to show which side she was on. Her conversation and general life were a blessing to those with whom she mingled . . . . But, although she is gone, and many of us will miss her much, yet we have no doubt about her present and future abode. Truly she died as she lived—a Bible saint.”
David G. Roebuck, Ph.D., is the Church of God historian and director of the Dixon Pentecostal Research Center in Cleveland, Tennessee.