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Grace Presbytery » In Memoriam – Rev. Dawson White Tunnell

In Memoriam – Rev. Dawson White Tunnell

The Rev. Dawson White Tunnell

December 28, 1924 – April 19, 2018

Dawson W. Tunnell was born, the oldest of four boys, to Evelyn Dawson and White Tunnell on December 28, 1924. He was 93 when he died of congestive heart failure on April 19, 2018. Raised in Van Zandt County, he was proud of being a product of the outstanding Van school system, and his love of learning served him well throughout his life.

Dawson graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio in 1945 and then from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago in 1949. During this time, he married his college sweetheart, the beautiful Joyce Baker, and their first child, Paul, was born.

After seminary, Dawson’s work included the organization of a trailblazing ministry in Rosenberg, Texas, the Rosenberg Larger Parish, a group of five Czech churches. Next came a fifteen year stint in the Synod of the Sun office in Denton where he served as Field Representative for the Board of National Missions. Dawson also pastored many small churches, all in the State of Texas. Along the way their family had increased to add their daughter, Carla, and son, James.


After retirement in 1990, Dawson was able to give time and energy to addressing the peace and justice issues that had always given guidance to his ministries. In Denton, in 2001, he organized Peace Action Denton, the first Denton chapter of this national organization, and together with other peacemakers, took active steps to stop the invasion of Iraq. In 2007, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Dallas Peace Center, now renamed the Center for Peace and Justice.

Dawson Tunnell has been known for his unique ability to merge his Christian faith with political action, believing that Jesus’s mandate to love one another leads us to make peace in every aspect of life, to ease the pain of poverty, to see the good in others, however different from ourselves, and to do this not only on an individual basis, but in the systems built to govern and inform. By his love and wisdom he leaves a legacy for numbers of friends and family, who have referred to him as “everybody’s favorite uncle”, “a tireless and most learned warrior”, “a warm shower of love”, “Mr. Wonderful”.


Dawson is pre-deseased by his first wife Joyce, their daughter Carla Sebesta and his three younger brothers, Glen, Gene, and Marshall. His legacy remains with his second wife Jean, sons Paul and Jimi, (Degan), Paul’s daughter India (Scott)Allen, Jim’s children Kayla, Sam, and Aishia, Carla’s children Anna (Jake) Maspero, John (Bethany) Sebesta, James (Analisa, with baby Lily Carla on the way) Sebesta, and four great grandsons Nathan, Trevor, Garrett, and Gannon Allen , and step daughter Karen Portillo and granddaughter Katy Portillo, and step son Rob Goodson and his daughter Sofia.

Dawson Tunnell, longtime Denton resident and Presbyterian, died on April 19. He was 93. A celebration of his life will be at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 29 at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 2200 N. Bell Ave.

Memorial donations may be sent to Trinity Presbyterian Church (2200 Bell Ave. Denton) and the Dallas Center for Peace and Justice.