William “Bill” Derryberry — who recruited students to Palm Beach Atlantic before the school existed — died Aug. 23 at the age of 78.
Derryberry’s memorial service is planned for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7 at Family Church Downtown in West Palm Beach. In lieu of flowers, Derryberry requested financial gifts be made to Palm Beach Atlantic in his name, said lifelong friend Patrick Moody.
“Without Bill Derryberry, there would be no Palm Beach Atlantic,” Moody said. “To me, it’s a miracle. God used Bill in a tremendous way, with the right words and right vision to share with kids all over the state.”
Derryberry was PBA’s founding director of admissions and men’s basketball coach. Before that, he served in youth ministry at First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, now Family Church, where Moody’s father, Jess, was pastor. One spring day in 1968, Jess Moody called Derryberry into his office and said he had good news and bad news.
The good news: Moody was providing Derryberry a cherry red, white-top convertible 1931 Model A Ford replica to travel the state, plus a credit card to pay for hotels and meals. The bad news: Derryberry had to bring in PBA’s first class of students by September. There was no land, building, faculty, money or classrooms. And yet, Derryberry recruited about 100 students for the founding class, Patrick Moody said.
“Bill was very eloquent and very convincing. He wasn’t someone who ‘sold the sizzle,’” Patrick Moody said. “He had a great heart, and I think people recognized that heart in him.”
Derryberry’s love for PBA endured. He regularly attended the School of Ministry’s commissioning services and served on the committee for the Frank Wright Scholarship. When the committee finished divvying up the scholarships for the year, they’d often have half a scholarship left.
“Bill would pull out his checkbook and say, ‘Let’s do one more,’” and hand out the difference, Moody said.
Jess Moody took Derryberry under his wing when the elder Moody was pastor of First Baptist Church of Owensboro in Kentucky and Derryberry was an orphaned, 10-year-old boy bursting with energy. The young pastor steered Derryberry toward ministry.
For Derryberry, “his family was God’s family,” Patrick Moody said. “He was the closest I had to a brother. He was my brother in Christ. He looked at my dad as his dad.”
Derryberry preached his first sermon as a teenager and was ordained, Patrick Moody said. He served at various churches in Georgia and First Baptist Church of Clewiston. At the time of his death, Derryberry was pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church in West Palm Beach.
When he and the elder Moody were both pastors, they would go out for pie and ice cream after Sunday evening church services to share their successes and struggles in ministry. Derryberry officiated the elder Moody’s funeral in 2018.
When Derryberry worked with youth, he would make it fun and then ease into more serious matters.
“He wasn’t pompous; he wasn’t Pharisaical,” Patrick Moody said. “He loved to crack jokes and tell stories. He would break down all the walls and then go from there.”
Since the 1970s, Derryberry served as chaplain for various police departments, including the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. As a chaplain, Derryberry often was dispatched in the middle of the night to tell parents that their sons or daughters weren’t coming home because they’d been killed in a car crash. After those 2 a.m. calls, Derryberry awoke at 7 a.m. to preach at church on Sunday, Patrick Moody said.
“It’s a very emotionally taxing job, but Bill was always very positive,” Moody said. “He gained a lot of respect with PBSO and the community.”
A few weeks ago, Moody went to the movies with Derryberry and Don Harp, PBA lifetime member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors. It was the last time they were together. Derryberry got ahead of the other two men, and by the time they caught up with him, he had already bought their tickets. The only time Patrick and his wife, Amy, could ever pay for a meal was when they invited him to their home and bought the food in advance.
“That’s his way,” Patrick Moody said. “Generosity was his love language.”