VANCLEAVE (WLOX) -- The man who founded the Home of Grace in Jackson County died Thursday morning.
The Reverend Bill Barton, Senior is best known for starting the ministry that's helped more than 40,000 people recover from drug and alcohol addictions.
The 83-year-old died of natural causes. He was a well known and respected spiritual leader who also recently retired as senior pastor at Wade Baptist Church.
He was a humble man of integrity who loved the Lord and dedicated his life to helping others. That's how those who knew him best are describing Brother Bill.
The Home of Grace program he began back in 1965 continues to serve those who are hurting. Home of Grace in Vancleave now includes new brick buildings in a campus-like setting. Its success and growth spring from humble beginnings and a dream of the Rev. Bill Barton, Sr.
"He founded this place in1965. He started with ten acres here on the creek, and an old trailer. And he's always had just a big heart," said Larry Hammonds, who works as community relations director for the ministry.
"This place is amazing. It's made the difference in many, many lives," said former addict Mark Brantley, who counts himself among the changed lives.
Brother Bill's ministry gave him love and direction.
"They provide more an example of the way to live here than they do anything else. And they point you to the actual one that can help you. Brother Bill started all this. And I'll be forever grateful to him for the vision he had," Brantley shared.
Steve Simpson now works in the greenhouse at Home of Grace. He credits the ministry for helping him beat a 25 year crack cocaine addiction. Simpson calls Bill Barton a "man of integrity."
"You know, we're all going to miss Brother Bill very much. He was such a humble man in everything he did, that you almost had to be humbled yourself just to be around him. It was just powerful," Simpson said.
"He doesn't just affect the lives of the men here, he touches the lives of everyone he comes in contact with, including me," said Hammonds.
Todd Trenchard was at the lowest point imaginable when he came in contact with Brother Bill and the Home of Grace. He found encouragement, love and acceptance.
"I was 40-years-old, had been through all these treatment centers around the country. I didn't see much hope. And he said, 'Todd, I just want you to remember that I didn't start the Home of Grace until I was 40-years-old.' And so, it put it in perspective, what you could do with your life no matter how old you were, how far down you had gone," said Trenchard, who now works for a Pascagoula bank and directs the charitable Bacot-McCarty Foundation.
Trenchard says Barton's witness is legendary and he deserves to be called a hero.
"A person who probably made more of a difference in the lives of the unfortunate and afflicted than anybody in our county's history, whether it be through the Home of Grace or the visits in hospital rooms," said Trenchard.
Simpson recalls a recent visit with the Rev. Barton, who was thanking him for making some things for the family.
"And this was three days ago. He thanked me and I told him, Brother Bill, no words can thank you enough for what you've done for me. And for that I'm eternally grateful. And that was my last words to him."
Mark Brantley says the Rev. Barton will long be remembered through his ministry that will carry on.
"He was an amazing man. And his legacy will live on. Brother Billy, Josh, Lee, Ms. Shelene, they will all take up the torch and they will bear it. I have no doubt."
Larry Hammonds said his dear friend will be missed on earth, but welcomed in heaven.
"And right now, there's a big celebration going on in heaven, celebrating his life. He finished the race."
Services for the Rev. William L. Barton, Sr. will be Saturday at Wade Baptist Church. Visitation will be from 11am until 3pm, with the funeral to follow.