Civil rights leader, religious leader, community leader -- the Reverend Willard Durant was all of these things. However, Reverend Durant, who died Saturday at the age of 78, was more than the sum of his parts. Above all, the retired pastor of the Price Memorial AME Zion Church and longtime director of the Christian Center, was an advocate for humanity.
The Connecticut native met his wife, Rosemary, in Pittsfield more than half a century ago, and they graced the city and county for more than half a century. Rosemary, who died three years ago, was co-director of the Christian Center for 18 years and they formed a formidable team on behalf of the forgotten and disadvantaged.
An advocate for African-Americans since a time in the 1960s when the cause was unpopular in certain circles, Reverend Durant "was with the civil rights movement before there was a civil rights movement," said former Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto at a tribute to Reverend Durant last December. He lived to see great progress in civil rights, and in January was honored with the Legacy Award at the second Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Pittsfield presented by the Second Congregational Church.
Reverend Durant was an advocate for anyone, regardless of color, who was struggling to pay the rent, find a job, or seek justice. He was involved in all aspects of the community, and just two months ago spoke for the City Council on behalf of his cherished Westside Neighborhood Resource Center.
Reverend Durant was a happy warrior who succeeded through gentle persuasion and noble example. Victories in the causes he fought for were often measured incrementally, but he never surrendered hope or succumbed to pessimism. "Let your light shine so people can see your good work," he advised at January's celebration. His good work will continue to shine in his accomplishments in Pittsfield and elsewhere and through the example he set for others to follow.