Family of the Year

Gerald, Judy Mandrell keep old-school values

Pastors Gerald and Judy Mandrell are into their 39th year of marriage.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine

Outlook staff writer

After pastors Judy and Gerald Mandrell got to know a family made up of 10 children and both parents, they realized some stunning discoveries.

Among them, kids ages 2 and 3 didn’t have individual beds. The family also had a 12-inch black and white television. What the Mandrells uncovered is the result of what they do through their Family Affairs Program that they run out of Life Changers Church of God in Christ.

The couple eventually gave the family a 55-inch television and a makeover in some parts of their home, including a paint job. That is just one of many families that the Mandrells routinely reach out to.

“We believe that the family is glued to everything that’s going on from community to church to school,” pastor Judy said.

The passion for working to restore old-school family values make them the Capital Outlook’s choice for the 2020 Family of the Year recognition.

The Mandrell’s passion for being mentors goes  back to their years as students at FAMU, where pastor Gerald studied to become a pharmacist and pastor Judy worked on getting a degree in social work. Their protégés include Danette McBride and Carolyn Waddell. 

Both now have significant roles at the Life Changers Church, McBride as executive assistant and Waddell as pastor Judy’s personal assistant. They are just two of 12, including adults and children, that the Mandrells have taken on as godchildren.

Those who know the Mandrells say they are the ideal model for married couples that emphasizes family value. Over the years they’ve attended PTO meetings, hosted countless family dinners, taken nights out to the movie, road trips and family cruises.

They are doing all this while pastor Judy, a retired protective care and a foster care counselor with the Department of Children and Family, is operating Dream Builders Greatness Child Development Center. Pastor Gerald is pharmacist-in-charge with PharMerica, a distribution firm that delivers medication to long-term care facilities.

They still hold hands. She calls him bae and sweetheart. His passion for her is obvious when the conversation is about their relationship.

“She will always be first in my life and I make sure she knows it,” pastor Gerald said. “And, not just her, but everybody else, too.”

Indeed all of their godchildren know that if no one else does.

McBride, a network services supervisor with the Department of Financial Service, met the Mandrells soon after she arrived from Riviera Beach to attend classes at FAMU in Tallahassee. Pastor Judy became her Sunday school teacher at Watson Temple and the husband and wife duo eventually became her “spiritual parents.”

The connection was easy, McBride said, because of similarities between how the Mandrells and her biological parents in South Florida approach family life. She especially likes talking with pastor Gerald because he reminds her of her dad and gives her a sense of being safe, she said.

Another similarity is the time that she gets to spend over a meal with the couple. It’s a definite throwback to what she grew up with before moving the Tallahassee, she said.

“In the new age with so much of the cell phones, sometimes you see people in restaurants sitting together but no one is actually talking,” she said. “The Mandrells are very, very big on conversation, actually discussing what’s going on in the world.”

Of all of the Mandrells’ godchildren, Waddell has been in their life the longest. Their relationship started when she was 7. She spent more than a decade living with the couple.

That time gave her a close-up view of the essence of the relationship between the two pastors, who started their church in 1994. The time she spent in the Mandrell’s home still influences her life as a married mother of three grown children, she said.

“They were very loving, caring people,” Waddell said. “They instill in me some great principles (and) how to carry myself. They really imparted to me like a parent would; like I was their natural child.”

The only “natural child” that the Mandrells ever had lived just three hours after birth. They lost Brittany in 1988, seven years after they’d been married.

The loss was “a very devastating time for us,” said pastor Judy, adding that she needed a blood transfusion and medication to get her body back in synch. That weighed heavily on him when the discussion about having another biological child came up, said pastor Gerald.

His assurance to her seemingly was anchored in their faith and belief in a higher power.

“With the lord’s willing we could have another child, but I couldn’t have another her,” he recalled telling his wife. “I valued her that much and I didn’t want her to have to endure any more loss or any more pain.”

Admittedly, Waddell became the child they didn’t have. Growing up she was the typical teenager, sometimes pushing back on advice from the couple. 

“I appreciate it now,” she said. “I didn’t understand a lot of things or why it had to be that way, but as I grew into my own family I understand the teachings and things they tried to instill in me.

“Yes, I messed up a lot of times, but they did not turn their backs on me. They did not give up on me. They showed me a better way and they showed me by example of how they live their lives.”

The list of families that the Mandrells will touch is expected to grow even more – they are planning to take the Family Affair Program to Governor’s Charter school this year. They insist their approach will be the same as it has been since day one.

“We just think it’s fun to be family. We really do,” pastor Judy said. “We are proponents of families.”

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