Published April 18, 2013
LOUISVILLE, KY (BP) — Duke Kimbrough McCall, a Southern Baptist statesman and former president of Southern Seminary here, died April 2 near his home in Delray Beach, FL, from congestive heart failure and respiratory distress. He was 98.
McCall, whose contributions to the Southern Baptist Convention cover nearly 70 years, shaped both Southern Seminary and the denomination in ways that continue to define them today. When he became the seventh president of the seminary in 1951 at the age of 36, he already owned a record of denominational leadership.
He served as president of three different Southern Baptist entities: New Orleans Seminary (1943-1946), the SBC Executive Committee (1946-1951) and Southern Seminary (1951-1982). He invested in denominational leadership as a very young man and was only 28 when elected president of the New Orleans seminary (then Baptist Bible Institute).
By the time he retired in 1982, he had become the longest-serving president in the history of Southern Seminary.
“A giant has fallen in Israel. The death of Dr. Duke K. McCall reminds us of the lengthened shadow one man can cast over a great denomination,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., the current president of Southern Seminary. “He, along with Drs. W.A. Criswell and Herschel H. Hobbs, brought the Southern Baptist Convention into the modern age.”
McCall was president of Southern Seminary for three decades, a period that stretched from the civil rights movement to the beginning of the conservative resurgence in the SBC.
McCall stood firm for the civil rights of African Americans, and it was during his tenure at the seminary that Martin Luther King Jr., who as a young man had been denied admission to the seminary, spoke in chapel and in class in 1961.
He also led the seminary in growth, both in enrollment and in its endowment.
During the SBC conservative resurgence, McCall sided with the moderates, and at the SBC annual meeting in 1982 he lost to Jimmy Draper in a runoff for president. Draper’s election was the fourth year in the line of conservative presidents.
Despite his theological differences with conservatives, McCall continued to state his love for Southern Seminary, even in his final years.
“We do not always agree with each other on everything,” he said in 2009 at the seminary’s 150th celebration service, “but what I call upon us to recognize is that the hand of God is upon this institution and those with responsibility for her and that we acknowledge that and say, ‘We will continue our own convictions as they diverge from one another. But we will stand together in one common commitment in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.’”
In 1943, the trustees of New Orleans Seminary, at that time still called the Baptist Bible Institute of New Orleans, elected McCall, despite his youth, because he had earned a reputation for powerful preaching, evangelistic zeal, and bold leadership. He looked, however, like an incoming freshman. “Are you new here too?” a freshman asked him in 1943. “Yes I am,” McCall replied, “they have just made me president.”
As president of New Orleans and as president of the SBC Executive Committee, McCall exercised visionary leadership and attracted the support of leaders throughout the denomination. He was able to move Southern Baptists to accomplish some of the challenging things that the Gospel demanded of them. Though young, he demonstrated wisdom and power and a heart to serve the churches. These things endeared him to Southern Baptist pastors and laypersons.
On the 60th anniversary of McCall’s election, the seminary honored him at an event on Sept. 6, 2011. Earlier that same year, in April, the McCall Family Foundation established the Duke K. McCall Chair of Christian Leadership and the McCall Leadership Lectures series at Southern Seminary. The inaugural lecture in that series came at the anniversary celebration.
McCall leaves behind his wife, Winona McCandless, a widow whom he married after his first wife, Marguerite, died in 1983, and his four sons from that marriage: Duke Jr., Douglas, John Richard, and Michael.
A funeral service was held April 8 at Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville.
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