PITTSFIELD — As long as you remember someone, they never die.
Those were the words of the Rev. Louise Williamson, who at Price Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church on Saturday led a ceremony honoring two Pittsfield giants who now stand to live on for many years: the late Rev. Fanny R. Cooper, founder of the church, and the late Rev. Willard H. Durant, a 30-year pastor at the church.
"They were constantly concerned about others," Williamson said. "Giving their last money, doing all they could do for others, particularly, for those who were living in the shadows. Those who other folk didn't want to have anything to do with."
The church dedicated its Fellowship Room, under renovation for the past 15 months, to the two reverends. The room, looking bright, polished and chandeliered, will serve as a gathering place for congregants for various events.
Dawn Durant, the longtime pastor's daughter, described growing up in a "busy" atmosphere — busy in the best of ways. Her father and mother, the late Rosemary Durant, gave innumerable hours to the church, the community, the Christian Center, the local chapter of the NAACP, Soldier On and a foster home the two ran.
"He had a big love," Durant said. "He was like everybody's dad. Someone would stop him in the street and he'd drop everything he was doing and pray with that person. When the phone rang, it didn't matter where he was needed, somebody's home, the church, or the police station, he'd be there."
Rosemary and Willard Durant had four children of their own, including Dawn, and adopted four more. Born the son of a preacher in Ansonia, Conn., Willard Durant started his career as a reverend in Amherst before taking the helm in Pittsfield. Through the years, the Rev. Durant earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. He was later presented with an honorary doctorate.
The Rev. Durant died June 15, 2013, at age 78.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, who attended the ceremony, called Rev. Durant a "wonderful, warm human being with a raised social consciousness." He also expressed awe at the high-energy ceremony, which included singing, dancing and rousing words from Williamson.
You really put us Catholics to shame," Bianchi said.
The Rev. Cooper lived a similarly community-oriented life. She was active in promoting a multitude of social causes, the NAACP and helping to build the local Head Start Program in the Berkshires in the late '60s and early '70s. She died at the age of 93 less than a year after Durant, on Feb. 3, 2014.
Paul Keele, a grandson of Cooper's who plays piano at the church, said his grandmother offered him wise words, which have reverberated through his life.
"I want to walk that same path," Keele said.
State Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier spoke to the congregation as well.
"You have given the gift to future generations of this community to always remember the work of Reverend Cooper and Reverend Durant," Farley-Bouvier said. "That's a wonderful, wonderful gift, because it's on their shoulder that we stand, so we can see the future and the path to get there for greater justice in this community."
The church's new pastor, Rev. Jeffrey Hill, who took the helm four months ago, closed the ceremony with the following words.
"They were sowing seeds in the time that they spent with you all," he said. "Now they've sprouted and are beginning to grow. I'll be looking forward to continuing on as long as my season is here."
Contact reporter Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.