LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)—Duke Kimbrough McCall, a Southern Baptist statesman and former president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., died April 2 near his home in Delray Beach, 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 Baptist Theological Seminary (1943-1946), the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (1946-1951) and Southern Baptist Theological 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. “Dr. McCall was a giant among Southern Baptists. He belongs to that great generation of Southern Baptist leaders who shaped the convention as the 20th century brought new opportunities and new challenges. He, along with Drs. W.A. Criswell and Herschel H. Hobbs, brought the Southern Baptist Convention into the modern age.”
Frank S. Page, current president of the Executive Committee, said of McCall: “Southern Baptists are indebted to Dr. McCall. I know that I follow some great men, and Dr. McCall is one of them. He now moves to his ultimate reward and stands before our Lord. Southern Baptists have lost a great leader today. He leaves a powerful legacy.”
Chuck Kelly, the current president of New Orleans Seminary, said, “Dr. Duke McCall was one of the most influential leaders in SBC history. He made an indelible impact in New Orleans, presiding over our transition from Baptist Bible Institute to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. His influence throughout the SBC was profound, extending from our seminary to the Executive Committee to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and beyond. Whether you agreed with him or disagreed with him, you had to take account of his perspective. He earned the respect and appreciation even of those who disagreed with him. The story of the modern Southern Baptist Convention cannot be told without including the story of Duke McCall.”
McCall stood firm for the civil rights of African Americans, and it was during his tenure at Southern Seminary that Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in chapel and in class in 1961.
Son of judge John W. and Lizette McCall, Duke McCall was born in Meridian, Miss., in September of 1914, and he grew up with his four siblings in Memphis, Tenn. Following high school, McCall entered Furman University in Greenville, S.C. There, McCall met Marguerite Mullinnix. The couple married shortly after McCall graduated.
After McCall graduated from Furman University in 1935, he enrolled at Southern Seminary, earning a master of theology degree in 1938 and a doctor of philosophy degree in Old Testament studies in 1942 from Southern Seminary. Through most of his student years he pastored churches, including the prestigious Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
On the 60th anniversary of McCall’s election as president of SBTS, the seminary honored him at an event Sept. 6, 2011. In April 2011, the McCall Family Foundation established the Duke K. McCall Chair of Christian Leadership and the McCall Leadership Lectures series at Southern Seminary.
McCall leaves behind his wife, Winona McCandless, a widow whom he married after Marguerite died in 1983, his four sons: Duke Jr., Douglas, John Richard and Michael; twelve grandchildren; and fourteen great grandchildren.
The family held visitation services in the Duke K. McCall Sesquicentennial Pavilion at Southern Seminary April 7. A funeral service was held the following day at Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville. The family requests expressions of sympathy be in the form of donations to Hosparus of Kentucky, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the Baptist World Alliance or Broadway Baptist Church.
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