We have updated our Privacy Policy to provide you a better online experience.

A Lifetime of Encouragement

Vietnam veteran who lost his children in a fiery 1988 bus crash is still ministering to men dealing with loss and trauma.

After three decades as Kentucky Ministry Network Men’s Ministries and Light for the Lost director, Lee Williams has retired. His calling to encourage men to become stronger fathers and family leaders remains, however. With his wife, Dotty, the 70-year-old Williams counsels veterans and others dealing with loss or trauma, sharing his personal testimony of tragedy and redemption.

In 1988, Williams was stationed at Fort Knox with the U.S. Army. He taught Sunday School at Radcliff Assembly of God in Kentucky. Dotty Pearman served in the church alongside her husband, John, the associate pastor.

In the early morning hours of May 14, 1988, life changed forever for Lee Williams, Dotty Pearman, and many other members of the church and community. Following an outing to an amusement park, the bus carrying church youth, family members, and friends back home was hit by a drunk driver traveling the wrong way on Interstate 71. In the worst drunk driving tragedy in U.S. history, 27 people on board died in the fiery wreck as a result of the bus gas tank igniting.

Among the crash victims were Lee’s wife, Joy, and his 14- and 10-year old daughters, Kristen and Robin. John Pearman, the bus driver, also died, and 14-year-old Christy Pearman sustained serious injuries, with burns over two-thirds of her body. She remained hospitalized for months .

But God wasn’t finished with Lee Williams, nor with Dotty Pearman. The two couples had known each other through church ministry, as Dotty and Joy had been in women’s ministry and choir together; John and Lee both fought in the Vietnam War. In February 1989, Lee and Dotty connected through their shared losses.

“Over dinner we shared and talked for over four hours,” recalls Lee. Both benefited from grief counseling through Emerge Counseling Ministries. Their love for each other blossomed, and they sensed God leading them into ministry together. They wed in July 1989.

Lee began receiving invitations to share his testimony and speak about drunk driving and alcohol-related ballot issues. Vietnam veteran and speaker Dave Roever invited him to share at a men’s conference, and several pastors in attendance encouraged Williams to pursue special ministry. He spent a year learning from Roever — who sustained life-threatening burns from a grenade in the Vietnam War — and participating in events with him. The two remain close.

When Williams retired from the Army in 1990, Radcliffe AG pastor Don Tennison asked him to become church administrator. At the district council that spring, Williams became Men’s Ministries director for Kentucky.

Networking with other AG district leaders, Williams began to see the connections between his military career and his new assignment.

“I transferred to God’s army, traded my M16 for John 3:16,” he says. “When training young men in the Army, I saw so many who didn’t have father involvement. They wanted to marry and have a family, but didn’t know how. Equipping men needs to be a priority in every church.”

His testimony of God’s grace following the bus wreck, along with his Army experience, garnered him a ready audience with men suffering from trauma and loss, especially other veterans. Knowing personally that good memories can help with grief, he encourages men to look at blessings they have — particularly their marriage and children — and to make sure there are no regrets.

Williams urges men to take the title and responsibility of “dad” seriously.

“I lost my title after the bus wreck,” he says. “Father’s Day 1988 was probably my worst day.”

For Christmas 1989, Dotty’s three children — then ages 14, 12, and 7 — decided among themselves that their gift to Lee would be to start calling him “Dad,” unknowingly restoring him to the role he desperately missed. Now Christy, Robbie, and Tiffany are all married with families of their own, giving Lee and Dotty 11 grandchildren.

Although officially retired from Kentucky Ministry Network leadership, Williams continues to lead men’s ministry at Radcliff Assembly, where he now serves as associate pastor. Around three dozen men meet for Sunday School in a room remodeled as a “spiritual guys’ cave.” Patterned after the military, the group emphasizes bonding and brotherhood. Specific courses of study are taught by a team of teachers mentored by Williams.

Williams enjoys seeing the spiritual growth of those in the local group, and he also continues to speak and relate his testimony when invited, especially at district men’s conferences. He and Dotty also volunteer with the Wounded Warrior Project.

Looking back over the years, Dotty, 65, reflects on how God miraculously put the two of them together.

“I could never figure these things out on my own — only God,” she says. Kentucky Ministry Network Superintendent Joseph S. Girdler says the couple have a unique and effective ministry platform.

“Their riveting testimonies following the 1988 bus crash propelled them to a national ministry, while simultaneously serving the district,” Girdler says. “Lee always found a way to get it done and do it well. Lee’s experiences and rich military background, and his and Dotty’s hearts for the hurting, have made such an impact.”

As a medic in Vietnam, Williams learned to deal with the horrors of what he witnessed by focusing on the lives he was able to save.

Similarly, he encourages other men to deal constructively with memories.

“Find the good,” he says. “As our own story shows, seek God. Wait on God. You can trust God.”

Cynthia J Thomas

Cynthia J. Thomas worked for Assemblies of God U.S. Missions for six years before becoming primary caregiver for her father, a World War II veteran. She has served as a counselor for victims of domestic violence and women facing crisis pregnancies. Cindy and her husband, Phil, a schoolteacher, volunteer in youth outreach and have three adult children and one granddaughter.