Henry and Sharon Fordham

Henry Fordham III, president of the Allegheny East Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists, based in Pine Forge, and his wife, Sharon, were killed in a fire early Sunday morning in their Amity Township home.

An Amity Township house fire that killed two people remains under investigation by state police in Reading.

The blaze early Sunday claimed the lives of the leader of a Seventh-day Adventists group and his wife of 53 years and injured the couple’s youngest son.

Autopsies performed Monday morning in Reading Hospital showed the homeowners, Henry J. Fordham III, 77, and his wife, Sharon, also 77, died of thermal burns and smoke inhalation.

The fire was discovered about 12:30 a.m. Sunday in their home at 118 Orchard View Drive, Berks County acting Coroner Jonn M. Hollenbach said.

A ruling on the manner of death is pending the investigation by the state police fire marshal’s office.

Henry Fordham was president of the Allegheny East Conference of the Seventh-day Adventists, based in the Pine Forge community in Douglass Township, and once taught at the church-run Pine Forge Academy. Sharon Fordham supported her husband in his ministry and held the title of first lady.

On its website and social media, the conference continued to urge prayers for the Fordham family and the church community.

Their youngest son, Shawn, who was in the home when the fire broke out, suffered minor injuries and was taken to a local hospital, where he was treated for smoke inhalation, according to an article posted on the conference website.

State police indicated that Shawn Fordham tried to rescue his parents before escaping through a second-floor window.

Henry and Sharon Fordham were found dead in a bedroom on the second floor of their home at the entrance of the Woods Edge subdivision.

Deputy Coroner W. Wayne Hopkins pronounced Sharon dead at 4:20 a.m. and Henry at 5:54.

Troopers said heavy equipment was required to suppress the fire, which was out shortly after 4 a.m.

The home is east of Earlville along Route 562.

Troopers said the entire structure, except for the attached garage, needed to be demolished because both floors and the roof collapsed into the basement. The loss is valued at about $600,000.

The rubble was still smoking when Trooper Janssen Herb, a state police fire marshal, returned to the property Monday afternoon to continue the investigation.

"At this point we don't have any information that indicates any criminal act occurred here," Herb said while taking a break to cool off in his truck.

Henry Fordham had served as president of AEC since October 2012 and spent his entire 47-year ministerial career serving the conference as a teacher, pastor, departmental leader and administrator, according to his biography on the group's website.

“It has been completely devastating and numbing," LaTasha Hewitt, director of communication and church ministries coordinator, said of the immediate impact of loss of their president and first lady. “It is such a great loss to our conference family.

"The Fordhams were such kind people and inspirational leaders who impacted so many lives. The void is deeply felt.”

The couple were affectionately known to family and friends as “Butch” and “Sherry.”

Sharon recently had been battling brain cancer, during which time Henry lovingly supported and cared for her with the help of their sons, according to the conference. In addition to Shawn, they are survived by sons Joey and Donovan, several grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The loss of the Fordhams is being felt by many who knew and served with them. Tributes and condolences are being received from around the globe.

The Allegheny East Conference is an administrative unit of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Columbia Union Conference. It serves some 32,000 constituents who worship in about 150 congregations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Dave Weigley, Columbia Union Conference president, was quoted on the website: “Today, we lost a giant, a legend in Adventist ministry — Elder Henry J. Fordham III, and his dear wife, Sharon. Together, they made an indelible contribution to the work of God."

Pete Palmer, executive secretary of AEC, shared these sentiments: “My wife, Dahlia, and I, along with the AEC members, employees and administrators, are grieving the loss of the Fordhams, who were our friends, mentors and spiritual parents. Elder and Sister Fordham were more than colleagues and fellow administrators; they poured into us, prayed over us and counseled us. To say that we will miss them is an understatement."

Gwendolyn Bradford-Norwood, Henry Fordham’s executive administrative assistant, said: “He was a God-fearing Christian man, and was a supervisor whom you didn’t mind working with because he was always so thoughtful. He also loved his wife and strongly believed in family.”

According to the conference website, after graduating from Oakwood University in Huntsville, Ala. in 1973 with degrees in theology and history, Henry Fordham went on to attend Ohio State University, where he obtained a master’s degree in Jewish theology.

For two years, he taught history at Pine Forge Academy, where he once was a student. He then pastored churches in Delaware and Maryland before he was elected as director of ministerial, personal ministries and religious liberty director for AEC.

While in this role, he also served as interim pastor at several churches within the AEC territory. He later was elected to serve as conference executive secretary, a position he held for several years before becoming president.

Fordham participated in evangelistic efforts in Africa, England, Australia, Puerto Rico and South America. He participated in several campaigns in India and had the honor of meeting Mother Teresa in Calcutta.

He was an avid photographer, collector and enjoyed sharing stories about his travel experiences.

Sharon Fordham worked for the Social Security Administration office in Baltimore for several years and dedicated her life to raising her children and grandchildren. As first lady of the Columbia Union’s second largest conference, she was instrumental in supporting her husband’s ministry. She often accompanied him to churches, meetings and itineraries abroad.

comments powered by Disqus