A Plain Vanilla Alabama Boy

While the US census ranks it in the upper 4 percent of surnames, not many people actually know someone named Lolley. The state where one is most likely to encounter a Lolley is Alabama—yet only slightly more than 10 of every 100,000 Alabamians bear the name.

It was in “L.A.” (Lower Alabama), as he called it, that William Randall Lolley was born on Tuesday, June 2, 1931. The site of his birth was “the Tolbert Place,” located in the Good Hope community just west of the Pike County college town of Troy. Randall’s parents were Roscoe and Mary Sarah Nunnelee Lolley.

Roscoe’s “Lolley” heritage has been traced for only four generations. The first person in his line known to bear the name was one William Lolley, a North Carolinian born in 1788. William’s family appeared thereafter to have migrated first to Georgia (where in 1816 his son William Jeremiah “Jerry” Lolley was born) and then to Coffee County, in southeast Alabama. Jerry’s son Elijah Nathanael was born there in 1839, followed in 1870 by his grandson Lijah Mathanael (nicknamed “Pete”) and in 1900 by great-grandson Roscoe Lee Lolley.

. . .

When Randall was nine years of age, his family departed Goshen and moved farther south, to Geneva County and the town of Samson, along the Florida state line. There his father co-owned and operated the Bowden-Lolley Feed Mill, while his mother taught at Samson Elementary School. The family of four—Roscoe, Mary, Randall, and Tom—transferred their church affiliation to Samson Baptist Church, where they worshiped and served regularly and faithfully. At twelve years of age Randall came to Christian faith and was baptized into the seventy-five-member congregation.

Meanwhile, Mary Lolley’s brother Asa paid regular and occasionally lengthy visits to the Lolley household, where he occupied an extra bedroom. Particularly concerned that his religiously earnest nephew not be perceived as a “goody-goody,” Uncle Asa frequently conducted young Randall on outings to a pool hall in nearby Troy.

From the moment he entered his mother’s fourth-grade classroom, Randall showed himself a superior student. He led his classmates all the way through elementary and high school, eventually to be named valedictorian of the Samson High School senior class. Perceived as appropriately “well-rounded”—given his involvements in church, school, community, and athletics—he recalled that he was recommended for a congressional appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point.

While he always regarded himself as an American patriot, Randall turned that “signal honor” down. His prior obligation was a vocational Christian calling that he first sensed while still a public school student. Following his 1949 high school graduation, he joined himself to a “youth revival team.” In a 2012 interview he explained:

I was a product of the youth revival movement of the mid-late forties, just as WWII was ending. The whole country was caught up in the youth revival movement, which originated at Baylor University. Several teams of gifted and talented ministers would go out in the summers, all over the south, giving revivals directed to youth twelve to twenty years of age. When they came to my part of Alabama, a religious fervor like I have never seen swept the South.

Cynthia Dawne Savage-King, Finding Somewhere Else to Go (DMin thesis, Episcopal Divinity School [Cambridge, MA], 2012).

“I wasn’t a preacher or singer,” he clarified. “I was director of activities—I cut the watermelon!”

This post originally appeared in Randall Lolley: Thanks for the Memories by Steve Pressley. To read more about Dr. Lolley’s life and ministry, order your copy today.

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