Sylvia Ross Talbot

Dr Sylvia Ross Talbot (right) at the WCC 5th Assembly, held in Nairobi, Kenya, 1975.


A native of St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands, and a lifelong member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Talbot rose from humble beginnings to become a delegate to the United Nations, an international leader in the AME Church, and a globally respected authority on public health and the churches’s role in healthcare delivery.

After graduating from college with a degree in biology, Talbot earned a Master’s degree in public health at Yale University in 1957 and a doctorate in health education from Columbia University in 1969. After serving in a variety of community health venues, Talbot was appointed minister of health in Guyana, heading a government department responsible for the country's hospitals, pharmacies and public health service and becoming the chief spokesperson and advocate for public health in Parliament. Later, she was appointed delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from Guyana.

Talbot married Frederick Hilborn Talbot in 1958, and she served as a supervisor of many ministries during their long service in congregations and his episcopate in Guyana and later in AME districts in the USA.

Her service to the AME Church spanned all levels, including organist, Sunday school teacher, conference branch president of the Women's Missionary Society, and Episcopal District director of the Young People's Division.

Over her decades-long career, Talbot also led many regional, national, and international religious organizations, including the Caribbean Conference of Churches and the WCC’s Christian Medical Commission.

She became the first African American woman elected as vice-moderator of the WCC’s central committee in 1983 at its 6th Assembly, in Vancouver, and the first African Methodist elected as the National President of Church Women United/USA in 1987. She also served as President of the Pan-American Health Organization.

Talbot’s prominence led Essence magazine to label her a “Legend of Our Times” in 1990.

Talbot’s tenure as vice-moderator of the WCC’s central committee lasted from 1983 till the following assembly, held in Canberra, Australia, in 1991. Those consequential years witnessed such developments as the Ecumenical Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women (1988-98), increased participation of women in the work of the WCC, the programme for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation, and the follow-up to the landmark consensus document Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry.

A memorial service for Dr. Talbot was held Saturday, 15 July, at the Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Nashville, Tennessee, officiated by Bishop E. Anne Henning Byfield.

Read the letter of condolences from the WCC general secretary