There was plenty of grief for Barbara Nell “Babs” Baugh as she was laid to rest in Houston Saturday morning. But there was no scarcity of humor, either.
In fact, there was cause for laughter at the outset of the graveside service attended by family and friends and livestreamed on Facebook: It started 15 minutes late.
“It’s 9:15, so we’re on Babs Standard Time,” quipped Garrett Vickrey, senior pastor at Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio.
Baugh, former president of the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation and a benefactor of progressive Baptist ministries and movements around the world, died June 14 in San Antonio after battling Parkinson’s disease. She was 78.
Vickrey and his co-officiants – Daniel Vestal, former executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and Molly Marshall, former president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary – acknowledged the grief that naturally comes from losing someone so impactful as Baugh.
They highlighted the generosity, positivity, music and a penchant for connecting with and serving others that defined Baugh’s life. They described her love and devotion to family as exemplary.
In his remarks, Vickrey reminded mourners that the same divine hand guiding them through a time of pandemic had clearly guided Babs through her entire life. She in turn guided so many others, he said.
Baugh was “always a steady presence, a friend to so many and a support to an entire movement of Baptists.”
While her generosity was legendary, it was her connection with people that was the glue, Vickrey added. “Friendship is the eternal gift Babs gave over and over and over.”
Baugh formed caring relationships around the world and sometimes even with those who acted against her own family, Vickrey said. He recalled a story Baugh told of teenagers in a car doing donuts in her yard. She gave them the choice of having their parents notified or attending church with her for three Sundays. They chose church.
Baugh often used self-deprecating humor to break down barriers, Vickrey said. “She taught us friendship by laughing at herself. If something embarrassing happened to Babs, she wanted you to know about it.”
Even illness could not keep her from serving others, Vickrey said, recalling her dedication to the SonShine Singers of San Antonio, a musical group she led even as she battled Parkinson’s for a decade. “Or, we should say Parkinson’s battled her.”
‘She lived with exuberance’
Baugh’s life must be understood in the context of family, Vestal said, adding it was a way of life she learned from parents who helped shape her into a courageous and generous woman of faith.
That devotion, Vestal added, defined Baugh’s devotion to her husband, daughters, grandchildren and other family members.
“We cannot speak about Babs Baugh without speaking of her family – past, present and future,” he said. “There’s a circle here, there’s a community here, that’s integral to her.”
Baugh was well aware of the difficulties posed by human relationships after experiencing her share of grief and trials, he said. But she also experienced and gave back the grace, love and joy that comes from those deep human encounters. “She lived with exuberance and she loved a lot of other people like they were family, too.”
Vestal challenged the family, and especially the younger generation, to repay Baugh’s generosity and love by treating others the same. “Take the love Babs gave you and give it to others,” he said. “Receive the investment she made in you and now invest in the lives of others.”
‘Always … chasing the beautiful’
Marshall said she was one of those friends Baugh adopted and loved like family.
“I’m one of those who got invited for Thanksgiving and just kept on coming, thanks to Babs’ kindness and her family,” she said.
The tenacity and joy that defined Baugh’s life makes it even harder to accept her passing, Marshall said, but that is where Christ comes in. It requires a “radical act of faith to entrust a loved one to the care and mercy of God, which we do together today.”
Referencing the Apostle Paul, Marshall said she is certain Baugh is garbed in “suitable attire” for her new eternal home “as she gins up a dance group to compete with the harp players” in heaven.
In one of her last visits with Baugh, Marshall said her friend reported feeling the presence of her parents. There was “a special sort of communion going on” as she was “dwelling in a thin place between heaven and Earth,” Marshall recalled.
Baugh will remain alive through the stories told about her, Marshall promised. “She has always been chasing the beautiful and now has caught up with indescribable glory.”
Baugh is survived by her husband, John Jarrett; daughter Julie Baugh Cloud; daughter Jackie Baugh Moore and her husband, Kim Moore; six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
The family plans to hold a memorial celebration in San Antonio when it is safe to gather.
Editor’s Note: In October 2017, BNG’s board of directors hosted a dinner celebration in San Antonio honoring Babs Baugh and the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation. Watch the video tribute to Babs produced for that event by Cliff Vaughn of the Baptist Center for Ethics and David Wilkinson of Baptist News Global.