Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

North Carolina woman leaves $2 million bequest to PDA and SDOP

Matilda Cartledge’s relatives say her gift reflects the values she modeled

by Pat Cole | Presbyterian News Service

Matilda Cartledge as a young professor (circa 1950).

LOUISVILLE – While sorting through the papers of her late cousin Matilda Cartledge, Rebecca McClure found a couple of sentences in her recently deceased relative’s handwriting that she says reflect Cartledge’s values.

The unattributed sentences, which are a quote from President Franklin Roosevelt’s second inaugural address, read: “The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide for those who have too little.”

Even after her death, Cartledge models her commitment to people in need. She left the Presbyterian Mission Agency $2 million and directed that it be equally divided between Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Self-Development of People. She died Dec. 20 at age 96 in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Prior to moving to North Carolina in retirement, she taught biology for many years at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, a well-regarded, tuition-free school that serves students primarily from Southern Appalachia. Previously, she taught on the religion faculties of Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, and Presbyterian-related Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee. Cartledge held two graduate degrees — one in theology from Princeton Theological Seminary and another in biology from the University of Tennessee.

McClure describes her cousin as a devoted Presbyterian who had a keen interest in social justice. She notes that one of the causes that captured her cousin’s passion was the movement to help people flee political repression in Central America in the 1980s. It was a fervor that Matilda shared with her sister, Louisa, who died three years ago. “They were very, very interested in helping people get out of Nicaragua,” McClure says.

Matilda’s involvement with people reeling from the throes of conflict went back at least as far as her early adulthood during World War II. After graduating from Oberlin College in Ohio, she worked on a Red Cross ship in the Pacific Ocean. Her ship followed allied forces, lending aid to recently liberated internees and prisoners of war who had been held captive by Japanese forces.

Matilda Cartledge (right) with her sister Louisa (center), and their cousin Rebecca McClure in the early 2000s.

The Cartledge sisters grew up in a family of staunch Presbyterians. They had a grandfather, uncle and cousin who were Presbyterian ministers. Their father, Groves Howard Cartledge, was a chemistry professor and researcher who also had a love for theological inquiry. That interest resulted in an invitation for him to deliver the Smyth Lectures at Columbia Theological Seminary where the elder Cartledge’s brother, Samuel, taught for many years, according to the Rev. Douglas Vaughan, a Cartledge cousin.

Vaughan, like McClure, remembers the sisters as justice-minded Presbyterians whose concern for others reached well beyond the U.S. border. “The only time I can remember them criticizing the Presbyterian Church or their congregation is when they didn’t do enough for mission around the world.” He says they were “cutting edge” and applauded progressive actions taken by the General Assembly.

After Matilda and Louisa, a university librarian, retired, the two sisters moved to Brevard, North Carolina, which was the childhood home of their mother, Matilda Witmer Cartledge.

In her final years, the younger Matilda moved to a retirement center in Black Mountain, North Carolina. At Matilda’s request, her memorial service was a simple remembrance of her life during regular Sunday worship at her congregation, Black Mountain Presbyterian Church.

“She was always a brilliant, caring person with a wonderful, delicious sense of humor,” McClure says. “She always lived beyond herself. Up into the very end, even when her health was deteriorating, she was reaching out to others. She had a lust for life that lasted until the end.”

Sara Lisherness, director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Compassion, Peace and Justice Ministry area (CPJ), praised Matilda for her generosity and her faithful witness. “In CPJ, we strive to live out scripture’s call in Isaiah 58 to be ‘repairers of the breach.’ Matilda Cartledge spent a lifetime seeking to repair the breaches caused by injustice, and through this gift she continues that work even after her death. We are extremely grateful for her gift, and we are honored to use it in pursuit of God’s justice around the world.”


Self-Development of People is able to transform the lives of people thanks to your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is able to respond quickly to emergencies thanks to your gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.