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Gentle lives, upended by heartless cruelty

South Boston News
John and Nancy Alford / March 14, 2018
Friday’s brutal beating of a local pastor and murder of his wife at their Lake Gaston home has provoked outrage in the community and left friends and families wondering what kind of person could commit such a heartless act.

On Sunday, parishioners gathered at Sanford Memorial Baptist Church in Brodnax for a prayer vigil in remembrance of Nancy Alford, who died inside the family home in Littleton, N.C. after burglars tied her up and set the house on fire. There were also prayers for her husband and pastor at Sanford Memorial Baptist, the Rev. John Alford, who was savagely beaten and left for dead during the same home invasion. Alford is hospitalized in serious condition with second degree burns after escaping the fire. He was unable to save his wife.

The outpouring of love for the couple has been “awesome,” in the description of a friend, Rebecca Newton. Everyone from Brodnax Police Chief Joe Carey to fellow ministers such as Joey Tucker speak of the Alfords in glowing terms.

Newton knows John and Nancy Alford from her time worshipping at Sanford Memorial Baptist Church, where Mrs. Alford was the Sunday school teacher for adult classes. She also got to know Alford through his work for the Concord Baptist Association. Newton serves as office manager for the association.

As news of the murder and assault reached colleagues at Concord Baptist Association, the organization released the following statement: “Dear Pastors and Association Members, It is with deepest sympathy we make this post. The home of Rev. John Alford, pastor of Sanford Memorial Baptist Church, Brodnax, VA was broken into this morning, and John and his wife, Nancy, were victimized. Their home was set on fire. John was airlifted to UNC-Chapel Hill. According to Warren County EMS, John sustained inhalation burns in his lungs, and second degree burns to his face, hands and arms. Nancy did not survive. Please pray for John, their family, and his church family.”

The Warren County Sheriff’s Office said the couple interrupted a burglary in progress Friday when they returned to their home on Lake Gaston. Detectives reported that Mrs. Alford was forced to drive to a nearby bank and ordered to withdraw about $1,000 before returning home. Once back at their house on Mulberry Court in Littleton, the intruders tied the couple up and set the house on fire. Alford escaped but couldn’t rescue his wife. Authorities say Nancy Alford died inside the home.

The Alfords moved to the Littleton area more than 30 years ago, Newton said. Before then, the couple lived in Norfolk where they ran a day care center and he served as pastor at various Baptist churches in the area. Nancy practiced psychiatry and led conferences on the subject. After settling in the Lake Gaston area, Nancy, a licensed psychiatrist, opened a counseling office in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. while Alford worked as director of missions at Concord Baptist Association before becoming the full time pastor at Sanford Memorial Baptist Church.

They couple had been married for 58 years prior to Mrs. Alford’s passing.

Alford’s primary work duties may have been in outreach for the Association, but his heart and love, Newton said, has always been with children. He spent many hours with young campers at Camp Concord, a summer camp for children near Clarksville. “The kids loved having him there. He was grandfatherly to all children.”

Even at church, she said, Alford loved having children around. “He and Nancy both just had a way with kids.” More than once Newton recalled hearing from Alford on a Sunday when she would leave the church service early because one or both of her young children were fussy. “He’d say, ‘You didn’t need to leave. They weren’t bothering me and so they shouldn’t bother anyone else.’”

Wanda Williamson remembers Alford driving from Littleton to Camp Concord each day during the summer to teach Bible study to the kids. The trip is at least one hour in each direction, but he didn’t seem to mind, said Williamson. She got to know Alford when he served as president of the board for Camp Concord and she was camp manager. “He had such a heart for the camp and the young people. Even after he left the board” — members rotate off after four years — “he would keep a watch over us.”

His impact on the children attending Camp Concord lasted into adulthood. Dwight Nixon, a news photographer with CBS Channel 6, recalls Alford being “very welcoming” to him and others when he was a high school student working at the camp.

Both Williamson and Newton spoke of Alford’s deep faith. Newton recalled a meeting with the pastor with her then-fiancé, now her husband, before they married. “We were meeting with him ahead of our wedding. I remember him saying, “If you even think there is a chance of divorce, I cannot marry you.’” At first, Newton said she was taken aback. “Of course, I wasn’t thinking about divorce, we were in love, we’d just gotten engaged.” She says she quickly realized that he wanted the couple to fully grasp the Christian aspect of marriage.

More than once during a Sunday sermon, Newton said she and her husband would take notes. Alford’s sermons were so meaningful. They wanted to remember every detail for use in their daily lives. Williamson explained his way with words thusly: “He had a wonderful sense of humor and was so captivating as a speaker, you wanted to take in every word. He was always very positive. He made you want to be a better person.”

As Newton, Williamson and many others try to make sense of the crime that took the life of Mrs. Alford and left Alford struggling for survival, Newton says she’s reminded of one of his sermons, titled “God is Faithful.” Through everything — all the sickness that he endured — Alford pronounced his unyielding faith in God and reminded the congregation that no matter what trials we face, that God will never give us more than we can handle and will always be faithful.”

A prayer vigil, “Light Up the Night, Push Back the Darkness,” will be held Friday, at 5 p.m. at the former Lake House across from the Wildwood Point Subdivision on Lizard Creek Road near Littleton. It is for John Alford and in memory of his wife Nancy. The public is invited to attend.

Police recover couple’s stolen vehicle Tuesday

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