Longtime Florida Baptist leader Jim Tatum, 85, dies
Memorial service May 31 in Jacksonville
May 29, 2012

JACKSONVILLE (FBW)-Jim Tatum, 85, longtime Sunday School teacher and leader at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, died Saturday evening, May 26, according to a Tweet on social media by his pastor Mac Brunson.

Jim Tatum (center), a Jacksonville businessman and member of First Baptist Church who was responsible for clothing thousands of ministers and missionaries, died May 26. He took his mobile ministry of offering discounted or free suits to pastor was often at events like the Florida Baptist State Convention annual meeting in Lakeland in 2008 where he talks with John Sullivan (left) executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention and Tommy Green, pastor of First Baptist Church in Brandon. Photo by Joni B. Hannigan
Tatum, who was serving a third three-year term as a member of Florida Baptist State Convention's State Board of Missions, was a Jacksonville clothier for over 50 years. He was known throughout the Southern Baptist Convention for his “Suits for Servants” ministry, clothing thousands of ministers and missionaries, both domestically and internationally.

Survived by his wife of 63 years, Bernice, Tatum was a World War II veteran, and was celebrated as a visionary and entrepreneur with a love of fashion – and of missions.

A 2004 story by the Florida Baptist Convention outlined Tatum’s move from operating a successful Jacksonville insurance company to opening a clothing store. Attending a conference with Homer Lindsay Jr., who was at that time the co-pastor of First Baptist Church Jacksonville, Tatum said he felt the call to begin a business that would help clothe pastors and missionaries.

In what Tatum called “an act of obedience to God” he began to purchase close out inventories from factories and wholesale retailers. At first, he operated out of his garage. But soon the business turned into multiple stores within Jacksonville and outside of Florida.

Each location was a prosperous endeavor, the article said, but Tatum sensed he had “missed the mark,” losing sight of the “missions work” in his business.

One-by-one he sold the stores, leaving only his warehouse on Jacksonville’s west side. Tatum had the opportunity to use his business for other types of “mission work” including taking his “mobile store” to college and seminary campuses and pastors’ conferences to meet the needs of ministers and seminary students who cannot afford to be wellclothed.

Each occasion afforded Tatum an opportunity to share his Christian testimony—which Tatum believed is the greatest joy, according to that news report and others, which tell of his ministry efforts.

Mac Brunson, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, told Florida Baptist Witness Tatum was “legendary” at his home church and to ministers and missionaries around the world.

“His generosity spoke of the life of Christ,” Brunson said. “He was the most genuine Christian I think I have ever known.”

Steve Clifton, executive pastor of education at First Baptist Jacksonville, told the Witness Tatum joined the church in 1986 and began to teach a men’s Sunday School class for men in their 30’s and 40’s soon after—the class which Clifton was in from 1996-1999. In 1999 Tatum began to teach a couple’s class which grew to over 250 with an average weekly attendance of 110.

 “Jim was a mentor to many people. He had much Bible knowledge and life experience to share. In his men's class he would take a different one of us on visitation each week for about four weeks in a row and spend time discipling us to love Jesus, love our wives and children, love God's church, and love each other,” Clifton said. “He was a supreme example of these types of love. I don't recall ever hearing him be negative at all for any reason in the 17 years I have known him.”

Clifton recalled visiting Tatum in the hospital about a month ago and watched his face light up when his wife walked in. “At that moment, his actions lived out the lessons he had taught us young guys many, many years before. What a godly example of a man.”

John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, was Tatum’s close friend.

“I have known only a few men in my lifetime who loved Jesus Christ like Jim Tatum,” Sullivan told Florida Baptist Witness. “As a result, he loved missions. We never had a conversation that a mission cause was not discussed.”

Sullivan said Tatum “loved the work of the Florida Baptist State Convention” and not only served on the State Board of Missions but was “deeply involved” in the Convention’s ministries.

“He knew everyone in the clothing business,” Sullivan said of Tatum. “Together, we have sent ‘tons’ of clothing to our Haitian partners.”

Jerry Vines, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church since 2006, knew Tatum for more than 30 years.

"Jim Tatum outfitted thousands of preachers and missionaries. He was my friend and a great layman," Vines told the Witness.

After his death dozens who were impacted by his ministry commented on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted after Tatum’s passing that he was mourning the laymen’s death, calling him a “precious servant of the Lord who clothed more ministers than any other man in history & so much more.”

Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, wrote a tribute about Tatum, “God’s Clothier of Preachers,” drawing a parallel between the biblical personality, Onesiphorus referrenced by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 1, acknowledging Tatum’s loyalty.

“Jim loved his family; tolerated no negative thought about First Baptist, Jacksonville; prayed faithfully for pastors Lindsay, Vines and Brunson; and sold men’s clothing to support his own ministries. His generosity toward seminary students is proverbial on most of our campuses,” Patterson wrote.

Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, announced in a tweet that Tatum had died. “Now clothed in righteousness,” Whitten wrote.

Bart Barber, a Texas pastor, on Sunday, May 27, tweeted: “If you own a Jim Tatum suit, why not wear it today to honor and remember him?”

Tatum served as second vice-president of the Florida Baptist State Convention 2003-04. He previously served on Florida’s State Board of Missions 2001-06, was appointed to the FBSC’s committee on nominations in 1997 and elected to the committee on order of business 2006-09.

A memorial service is planned for 10:30 a.m. Thursday, May 31, at First Baptist Church in the Ruth Lindsay Auditorium, following a 9:30 a.m. viewing.

Tatum is also survived by four children: Terri Bush (Danny); Tim Tatum (Alisa); Tracy Tatum (Stephanie); and Tammy Wilson (Gary); and nine grandchildren.

A story about his life and ministry is posted online at http://on.gofbw.com/JimTatum with additional stories linked.

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