Heather-Dawn Small, a longtime Seventh-day Adventist women’s leader and advocate, died on January 2 from cancer. She was 66.
Upon learning of her death, General Conference (GC) president Ted N. C. Wilson marked her life of service and contribution to the world church. “Heather-Dawn diligently served the world church as women’s ministries director for many years,” Wilson wrote on his social media accounts. “She was supportive of helping women become involved in evangelism and assisting the church in outreach and community activities. Heather-Dawn was very focused, through the Lord’s guidance, in making a difference in the life of the worldwide Seventh-day Adventist Church using the talents and dedication of the women of the church.”
In a statement to ANN, Audrey Andersson, a general GC vice president overseeing women’s ministries, also wrote that Small “helped shape women’s ministries over the past 18-plus years,” adding, “She was a sister, mentor, friend to many around the world and leaves a legacy of service which will continue to be a positive influence on each person she has met.”
A Life of Service and Advocacy
Over several decades, Small served the Adventist Church in varying capacities. She served in Trinidad and Tobago as assistant to the president of the University of the Southern Caribbean and children’s ministries and later women’s ministries director of the Caribbean Union Conference.
Small became General Conference associate director of women’s ministries in 2001 and was elected director in 2005 upon the retirement of Ardis Stenbakken. Small was subsequently re-elected to the position at the General Conference Sessions in 2010, 2015, and 2022.
During her tenure, Small developed and trained a generation of women committed to serving God and other people and to the mission of the church, several Adventist leaders said. She also embraced advocacy efforts through the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) campaign enditnow®, an initiative to mobilize members to learn about and speak out against abuse and violence.
Small obtained her B.A. in English from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States. Later, she completed a Master of Arts in Leadership with a minor in Pastoral Care to Women from Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, in 2015. At the time of her death, she was a candidate for a doctorate degree in Intercultural Studies.
In the Inter-American Division
Despite traveling around the world to visit her Adventist “sisters,” as Small would often call them, she never forgot the Inter-American Division (IAD), her home division, where she returned on many occasions as a guest speaker and to network and train other women leaders. Former and current leaders remember her for her kindness and commitment to supporting women in mission.
Former IAD president Israel Leito, who met Small for the first time decades ago in the Caribbean and later at the IAD, remembered Small as someone “very cordial, dedicated to her task, and always showing that beautiful Christian spirit.” He added, “Her humble service has touched the lives of and transformed so many. Heather was a real inspiration and exemplary Christian worker.”
Also, former IAD women’s ministries director Dinorah Rivera said she fondly remembers the years she interacted with Small in leadership. “Her passion and commitment were evident, and her love and zeal drove her to fight for [women’s] well-being,” Rivera wrote. “She fought to empower women around the world to become spiritually, mentally, and physically strong to bring forth an even better generation of women for the glory of God.”
On January 3, during the devotional to open the activities of the new year at the IAD headquarters in Miami, Florida, IAD president Elie Henry asked for prayers for the family as he relayed the sad news. “It is a moment that we take with great sadness here in the Inter-American Division…. From the last words she shared, [Heather] seemed to have peace and serenity in her faith in the coming of Jesus,” Henry said. He added, “We are losing a strong voice in the world church and the Inter-American Division. She was a good preacher. Her words, her messages, her testimony, and her passion for the Lord will stay with us.”
IAD women’s ministries director Edith Ruiz Espinoza also shared her thoughts upon learning about Small’s death. “I feel a great, painful emptiness inside,” Espinoza said. “We will always remember our dear Heather because of her smile, kindness, and leadership on behalf of women around the world. She left an imprint in my heart and in women across the world.”
Espinoza shared how Small visited the IAD region for the last time in late October 2023. On that occasion, she attended an event where more than 5,000 women were present. “Every one of her messages, words, hugs, smiles, and her effort were an inspiration,” Espinoza said. “Those who were with her felt blessed by her ministry.”
Small is survived by her husband, Joseph Small, an Adventist pastor, and her children, Dalonne and Jerard. Memorial service details are pending.
Libna Stevens contributed to this obituary.