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James Duncan, was Episcopal bishop

By CRAIG BASSE

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


Retired Episcopal Bishop James L. Duncan, a former rector of St. Peter's Cathedral in St. Petersburg and a champion of improved care for the elderly, died Thursday (July 20, 2000) at the Floridean Nursing Home in Miami. He was 86.

Bishop Duncan, who had Parkinson's disease for five years, died of pneumonia, said his brother, Dr. Thomas A. Duncan of St. Petersburg.

Rector at St. Peter's for 11 years, he was elected the first bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida in 1969.

In St. Petersburg, his legacy includes Suncoast Manor, a retirement colony at 6909 Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) St. S. It was the first church-sponsored elderly residence to be built locally, according to its founders, although others had opened in pre-existing buildings.

Inspiration for Suncoast Manor struck him in 1958 as he traveled to a conference on aging, he recalled in a 1989 interview. He had many elderly parishioners at St. Peter's Church and their care weighed heavily on his mind.

"St. Petersburg was a mecca for elderly people, and they lived in boarding houses all over town, some of which were awful," he said. "I was very concerned."

At the conference, he learned of a new Federal Housing Authority program for elderly housing. He returned home convinced that this could be the means for an all-inclusive housing center with services and medical care for the elderly in St. Petersburg.

The non-profit living facility opened in 1964, at a final cost of $4-million.

Three years ago, Bishop Duncan returned to St. Petersburg from Miami for the dedication of a nursing unit at Suncoast Manor for patients suffering from Alzheimer's and memory loss disorders.

The new unit was named in his honor.

During his tenure as rector of St. Peter's, he helped to found eight Episcopal churches, St. Alban's, St. Thomas', St. Bede's, St. Vincent's, St. Matthew's and Church of the Cross, all in St. Petersburg, St. Giles' in Pinellas Park and St. Dunstan's in Largo.

He left his post at St. Peter's when he was elected suffragan bishop for South Florida in 1961.

A native of Greensboro, N.C., James Loughlin Duncan was the son of a Roman Catholic mother and a Scotch Presbyterian father and attended Emory University, which is related to the United Methodist Church. His first wife, the former Evelyn Burgess, who died in 1967, was the daughter of a Baptist minister.

His early ambition was to become a chemical engineer. With that goal he attended Emory in Atlanta, where he had lived since infancy. To earn extra money during those Depression days, he became secretary and chauffeur to Episcopal Bishop Henry Mikell. The job led to a close friendship with the bishop and his decision to follow a religious life.

After graduating from Emory with a bachelor's degree, he remained for a year to receive a master of philosophy degree. He went on to earn a bachelor of divinity degree from the University of the South in 1939. He long served on the Sewanee, Tenn., school's board of directors.

He was ordained a deacon in 1938 and a priest in 1939 in Atlanta. He was an assistant rector of All Saints' Church, Atlanta, 1939-40.

Before taking up his duties at St. Peter's in St. Petersburg in 1950, he was rector of St. Peter's Church, Rome, Ga., and All Saints' Church, Winter Park.

Survivors, besides his brother, include his wife of 32 years, Elaine; a daughter, Mary Anna Waters, Tallahassee; a stepdaughter, Georganne Crudup, New York City; two sons, John R., Semi Valley, Calif., and James L. Jr. Atlanta; a sister, Patricia Driscoll, Atlanta; 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Miami. VanArsdale Funeral Home, Coral Gables, is in charge of arrangements.

-- Information from Times files was used in this obituary.

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