W.C. Fields, the former director of Baptist Press who inspired a generation of religious journalists including the founders of Baptist News Global-forerunner Associated Baptist Press, was among Baptist newsmakers who died in 2018. The pioneer in religious communications and defender of an uncensored Baptist press, died Dec. 2 at age 96.
Evangelist Billy Graham, a Southern Baptist, died Feb. 21 at age 99. Arizona Sen. John McCain, an Episcopalian who worshipped regularly at North Phoenix Baptist Church, died Aug. 25 from an aggressive form of brain cancer. Gail O’Day, former dean of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, lost a similar battle to brain cancer Sept. 22.
Other prominent deaths this year reported by Baptist News Global included James Cone, the founder of black liberation theology. He died April 28 at 79. Eugene Peterson, whose Bible paraphrase known as “The Message” sold millions of copies, died Oct 22 at 85.
Composer Kurt Kaiser, writer of familiar Christian songs as “Pass It On” and “Oh How He Loves You and Me,” died Nov. 12 at age 83. A longtime resident of Waco, Texas, he was deeply involved with Baylor University and churches including Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-affiliated Seventh & James Baptist Church.
While not known as a gospel singer, the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin, learned her chops as a preacher’s kid at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Church members gathered for a prayer vigil prior to her death on Aug. 16.
The death of 26-year-old adventurer and self-styled mission John Allen Chau, killed Nov. 16 while trying to contact an indigenous people group on North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal, ignited a debate over missiology.
Ida Mae Ford, a 49-year-old mother of six and grandmother who served as a custodian for First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia, became the city’s first homicide victim of 2018 when she was shot and killed near her home Jan. 8.
Well-known Baptists lost in 2018 included:
John Bisagno, 84, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Houston, and a leader in the “conservative resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention. He died Aug. 5 after battling cancer.
Betty Doyen Dilday, 87, former first lady of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, died Aug. 9. Survivors include her husband Russell Dilday, whose 1994 firing galvanized moderate resistance to the conservative resurgence, and Robert Dilday, a veteran Baptist journalist who resigned as Baptist News Global’s editor-in-chief in June to become an Episcopal priest.
Ben M. Elrod, 87, president of Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas, from 1988 to 1998. He died Aug. 7.
Rudy Fagan, 88, president of the former Stewardship Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention for 20 years. He died Oct. 3 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee .
Jesse C. Fletcher, 87, president and chancellor of Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. The author of The Southern Baptist Convention: A Sesquicentennial History – commissioned after the then-Baptist Sunday School Board rejected an earlier version by Southwestern Seminary historian Leon McBeth as too sympathetic to the moderate side – died June 14
J.B. Fowler, 88, editor emeritus of the Baptist New Mexican, died Aug. 21 in San Antonio, Texas.
Charles Fuller, the Virginia pastor chosen to lead the failed Peace Committee established to reconcile clashing factions in the Southern Baptist Convention in the mid-1980s, died July 28 at age 86.
Cordell Maddox, 86, president of Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee from 1977 to 2000, died July 22.
Virginia G. Neely, 90, widow of Alliance of Baptists founder Alan Neely, died Aug 30 in Oxford, North Carolina.
Roy J. Smith, executive director-treasurer for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina for 13 years , died Oct. 18 at age 89.