Growing up in the Deep South, Albert Curry Winn planned to be a journalist, telling stories no one else would tell.
Then, at a church youth retreat, he underwent a profound experience that propelled him onto the path of Christian ministry, where he would raise a quiet, patient, but insistent voice throughout his life to benefit those he saw as downtrodden, downcast and disempowered, according to a son, James Anderson Winn of Boston.
The Rev. Dr. Winn, former pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Richmond and former moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S., died of congestive heart failure Tuesday in a Clemmons, N.C., long-term care facility. He was 90.
"He had a powerful moral and political vision about what was wrong and how it could be made better," his son said, "and he was fearless in speaking the truth to power."
Born in 1921 in Ocala, Fla., and reared in Greenville, S.C., "he discovered that four great-grandfathers and all eight great-great-grandfathers had been slaveholders. He felt a moral urgency to try to undo that evil," his son said.
He earned an English degree at Davidson College in 1942 and married before completing a bachelor of divinity degree at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond three years later.
Ordained in 1945, he served as a Navy chaplain at the end of World War II and taught Bible at Davidson College before serving as pastor of Potomac Rural Parish in rural King William.
In 1953, Dr. Winn moved to Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he became a Bible professor at historically black Stillman College and active with a forerunner group of the later civil rights movement that included icons such as Andrew Young and the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.
"He was all of 32, and a somewhat younger group of black preachers used to come to visit my father on Sunday afternoons while the Ku Klux Klan was taking license plate numbers outside," his son said.
He served as professor of doctrinal theology at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Kentucky from 1960 to 1973, the last seven as president, before returning to the pastorate.
He came to Richmond in 1974 to lead Second Presbyterian Church, a downtown church "that really had no ministry downtown when Al came," according to the Rev. David L. Morgan of Asheville, N.C., who served as his associate pastor.
Dr. Winn declined to move into the church manse in an exclusive neighborhood where all religions were not welcomed, Morgan said, and he declined to drive a church-furnished Lincoln, preferring his own AMC Hornet.
Recalled parishioner John V. Moeser, "He challenged the congregation to live out in the city and in the world itself what we professed on Sunday. He was passionate about racial and social justice and always spoke the truth about the city's divisions and the need for reconciliation."
Dr. Winn helped start a ministry to the homeless, transportation ministry for families of prison inmates and an ecumenical Downtown Cooperative Ministry with nearby congregations. "Some who had originally raised objections became quite proud of what we were doing. It was a watershed period of time that turned the church in a very different direction," Morgan said.
From 1979 to 1980, Dr. Winn also served as moderator of the governing body of his denomination, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. He worked toward healing the schism of the Northern and Southern factions of the church.
After leaving Richmond in 1981, he led a Georgia church, taught at seminaries and preached well into his 80s.
"Al Winn introduced me to spiritual direction," said his daughter-in-law, Molly Ramkey of Richmond. "He was a 'finger pointing at the moon' director. Don't look at me. Look where I am pointing. And go.
"Al was a quiet room in a noisy world."
His wife of 55 years, Grace Neely Walker Winn, died in February 2000.
Survivors, besides his son, include two more sons, Albert Bruce Curry Winn of Richmond and Randolph Axson Winn of Culpeper; a daughter, Grace Walker Ellis of Winston-Salem, N.C.; and five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. July 29 at Second Presbyterian Church, 13 N. Fifth St., in Richmond, following Sunday worship.