By BNG Staff
Jimmy Nickell, a Missouri layman who championed a free Baptist press for two decades as a member of the board of directors of Baptist News Global and its predecessor Associated Baptist Press, died Nov. 16 following complications from a brain bleed. He was 86.
ABP was founded in July 1990 as an independent news service created by and for Baptists interested in a free press following the firing of two top editors of the official Southern Baptist Convention news service for publishing stories critical of the denomination’s leadership.
Nickell, a 33-year employee of Pfizer Company who retired as national sales manager in 1994, joined the ABP board that year and remained heavily involved as a director until stepping down in 2016 after several years of growing health challenges including a recent hip replacement. He also served five years on the BNG Foundation board.
A generous donor with his wife, Kaye, Nickell was presented the BNG Founders Award, the news organization’s highest honor, in 2017. The award honors individuals and organizations that embody BNG’s founding principles and support its mission through significant professional or financial contributions.
“Jimmy consistently downplayed his contributions as a longstanding board member,” said David Wilkinson, BNG’s executive director and publisher since 2008. “But it’s impossible to overstate the tremendous difference he made through his advocacy for BNG’s mission; his wisdom, humor and generosity; and the many friendships he formed along the way. In a word, he was beloved.”
Nickell served as a Baptist lay leader throughout the years while living in Lubbock, Texas, and the Kansas City area. A former pastor remembered him as an “exemplary churchman, who loved the church in spite of its many flaws” and “a load-bearing leader who blessed the church with his wisdom and wit.”
“Jimmy was a stellar friend, an honest-to-the-bone, West Texas kind of friend,” said Keith Herron, a former Cooperative Baptist Fellowship moderator who was Nickell’s pastor at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri. “He was honest, deeply pragmatic, and hilarious. He loved a good story and he relished life as the gift that it is. Almost every good friend I’ve had over the years has also been one of Jimmy’s friends and all have been deeply affected by his sudden death.”
Both Jimmy and Kaye Nickell served as deacons at Holmeswood, and at their current church, Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Missouri, where they were members in the late 1970s and 1980s before moving out of state and rejoined in recent years.
Growing up near Amarillo, Nickell studied animal husbandry at Texas Tech University in Lubbock before flying bombers and aerial tankers in the Air Force. After active duty he served nearly 25 years in the reserves, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1983.
He learned about the work of Associated Baptist Press from his longtime friend, Ardelle Clemons, a member of ABP’s founding board of directors who thought he would make a good addition to the board.
Nickell remembered at his first meeting feeling out of place as a “farmboy turned salesman” in a group of mostly clergy and journalists until Charles Overby, a Pulitzer Prize winner and founding chairman of the board, told him: “We may know how to write a story, develop a story, market a story, but if there is no one to sell it, it means nothing.” That changed his perspective, and he stayed on the board another 21 years.
“From his first day of service on the ABP board, I knew Jimmy was going to be a devoted and energetic advocate for a free press,” said Greg Warner, who led ABP as executive editor from 1991 until 2008. “But I could not have known he would become one of my most treasured friends – the kind who would invite me to stay in his home, call me after my surgeries, or call me for no reason at all.”
Warner, who retired at 53 after multiple operations for degenerative-disc disease and failed-back syndrome, said he is only one of many people who received such kindness from Nickell.
“If you knew Jimmy, you knew his infectious laugh, extravagant generosity and inexhaustible optimism,” Warner said. “We are all left poorer by his death but so much richer by his life.”
While living in Kansas City, Nickell volunteered for more than 15 years at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas. He also served on the board of directors of the Alphapointe Foundation, a nonprofit agency that provides rehabilitation and occupational services for people with vision loss.
He is survived by Kaye, his wife of 62 years, their three daughters and four grandchildren: Kelly and Steve Ediger of Mission, Kansas, and son Jonathan; Kenda and Scott Carey of St. Charles, Missouri, and daughter Emma; and Kristi and Jeff Cates of Kansas City, Missouri, and sons Chandler and Cambridge.
A celebration of life memorial service is scheduled at 11 a.m., Monday, Nov. 25, at Second Baptist Church in Liberty. Family members will be available to receive guests prior to the service beginning at 9:30 a.m. Interment at Fort Leavenworth Military Cemetery is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial gifts be made to the Ardelle and Hardy Clemons Endowment Fund – intended to create a residency in faith-based journalism and established in 2008 through a lead gift from Jimmy and Kaye Nickell – at Baptist News Global. Gifts should be designated “Clemons Fund” and mailed to BNG, P.O. Box 21148, Winston-Salem, NC 27120, or made online.
Letters of remembrance may be sent to The Nickell Family, Second Baptist Church, 300 East Kansas Street, Liberty, MO 64068.