Almost 20 years after Billy Nimmons retired as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dalton and became pastor emeritus of the church, he remained a pastor for many.
"To a lot of people in the community he was still their pastor," said Phillip Cannon, executive pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dalton. "I've heard that from so many people over the last 24 hours. They had a pastor, but they also had a pastor in Billy Nimmons. I've spoken to people he married, people he baptized, people whose relatives' funerals he performed. He was still their pastor."
Nimmons, 84, passed away Friday.
Nimmons — who was born in Houston, Texas, and graduated from Baylor University and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary — was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dalton from 1977 to 2000.
"That's a long tenure for a pastor," said Cannon, who knew Nimmons since 1986. "And that's a testament to who he was and to his leadership of the church and to his impact on the community and to how the church felt about him. He retired here. He did not go somewhere else. This was his final ministerial role."
After his retirement, Nimmons spent a year as a missionary in Japan before returning to Dalton.
"And when he came back, he was the ultimate churchman," Cannon said. "For every new pastor that came following him, he did everything he could to make that pastor successful. He went out of his way to mentor them but also to stay out of their way."
Cannon said as a pastor and as a church member Nimmons routinely reached out to others.
"He started a Sunday school class, a men's class, that still exists. And most of those men came into the church and into a relationship with Christ through Billy," Cannon said.
Nimmons not only stayed involved in the church, he was active in many organizations both before and after his retirement. In 2014, the Northwest Georgia Council of Boy Scouts of America presented Nimmons with its Distinguished Citizen Award for leadership in the community. He was one of the founding board members of The GreenHouse Child Advocacy Center in 1994.
Based in Dalton, The GreenHouse serves children suspected of being victims of sexual assault or severe physical abuse as well as adult victims of sexual assault in Whitfield and Murray counties.
"I worked for The GreenHouse in 2010, and Billy was still on the board," Pam Partain wrote in a Facebook post. "We made a rule that he was simply not allowed to rotate off. Billy had a huge heart for our kids, and there were some needs that only Billy seemed able to fill. I will miss this dear, sweet man."
Partain's husband Jack Partain, who was then district attorney and later a Superior Court judge, played a key role in the founding of the GreenHouse.
Dalton native Charlie Bethel and his wife Lynsey were Nimmons' neighbors for over a decade, in addition to attending church with him.
"He was always positive, always encouraging," Bethel said. "He was always interested in how our children were doing. He was a loving person and wanted to see people succeed and do their best. He was always genuinely interested in how things were going for us."
Dalton Mayor Dennis Mock recalled Nimmons as both his pastor and his friend for more than 30 years.
"He and my father-in-law, Walter Whittle, were part of what they called the 'Scrap Iron Sunday School Class,'" Mock said. "It was a class of older gentlemen. They were a great bunch of guys. They had a lot of lively discussions in their Sunday school class and remained friends for years. They'd go to lunch at O'Charley's the last Friday of the month. I was really honored when Billy invited me to join them. I didn't think I was old enough, but apparently, I was, and I just enjoyed that fellowship with all of those gentlemen."
Mock recalled Nimmons as "an incredibly gifted and grounded man."
"He had a big heart for this community. He had a passion for his church," Mock said. "For so many years, he and I counseled and consoled each other. I will truly miss him."
Visitation is Thursday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the atrium of First Baptist Church of Dalton and Friday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in the atrium of First Baptist. A memorial service for Nimmons is at 3 p.m. on Friday in the sanctuary of First Baptist. First Baptist Church is at 311 N. Thornton Ave.