Marie Wiley Mathis – Indomitable Leadership

Marie Wiley Mathis

Dates of Service: 1956–63; 1969–75

National WMU has had a penchant for charismatic leaders, and Marie Wiley Mathis was certainly no exception. Born in Texas in 1903, little Marie Wiley was a beautiful baby, and that beauty of features was reflected throughout her life with her faith and commitment. Marie married a banker, Robert Lee Mathis, and their only child, Jane, was born in 1928. Marie became active in local Woman's Missionary Society. She was also an acknowledged young socialite in Texas, but when confronted with the various interests and needs pulling her in several directions, she opted for a devotion to missions. This choice would lead her from local to world-wide arenas. 

When the Mathis family moved to Dallas, Marie became indispensable to state WMU leadership as she volunteered to meet one need after another, excelling in all she did. She became youth secretary for Texas Baptists and blazed new trails of excellence with youth, eventually coming to the attention of National WMU.

Marie was a women of boundless energy and diverse talents. When her husband died suddenly in 1946, the widowed Marie accepted a position on the staff of First Baptist Church. Then, in 1947, she became president of Texas WMU. She also accepted a position as social director of Baylor University, initiating all sorts of innovative student activities. Her skills, from presenting dramas to decorating to planning pageants, became legendary.

When Marie began promoting the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for all church members, it revolutionized missions giving in Texas. Within a year, she led Texas Baptists to give more than one-third of the total national offering. Soon, she had a seat on the Foreign Mission Board (currently International Mission Board), and not long afterward, she also served on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee. 

In 1956, Marie was elected WMU national president. Among the numerous distinctions of her years in office was her endorsement of church-wide plan made a vast difference in funds received. 

The world became the venue of Marie, and she became a leading advocate for women worldwide. During her presidency from 1956 to 1963, Marie was noted for working hard and then keeping quiet until her statement of opinion would make a difference. Among her talents was her ability to sense what group members wanted to do and then help them do it.

Marie agreed to return to the position of national president in 1969 and aid in leading WMU through a time when women's roles were rapidly changing in society. Her committed and steady leadership lent much-needed stability during a period of rapid change.

In 1970, she became president of the Women's Department of the Baptist World Alliance. In those years, the indomitable Marie was showered with awards for outstanding leadership and remained stalwart in guiding WMU through repeated periods of change. Her final challenge as president was to smooth the transition of Alma Hunt's leadership to Carolyn Weatherford as executive lead.

Marie never admitted to illness and appeared to ignore the cancer that was seeping the life out of her. She died in 1985, mourned and honored across the national as well as abroad. The life and ministry of Marie Wiley Mathis have been imprinted indelibly in the history of Woman's Missionary Union.

Adapted from The Story of WMU by Rosalie Hunt


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