Bill O’Brien, Missions innovator, founding director of Global Center at Beeson Divinity School, dies at age 86

Bill O’Brien, a former Southern Baptist music missionary acknowledged as a leading expert in 21st century global missions, died Feb. 2. He was 86.

O’Brien and his wife of 56 years, Dellanna, served 12 years as missionaries in Indonesia before he joined the administrative staff of the Foreign Mission Board (now the International Mission Board) in Richmond, Virginia, in 1976. For 15 years, including nine years as executive vice president, he was responsible for implementing goals of Bold Mission Thrust, an international mission strategy to evangelize unreached people groups.

When Dellana was named executive director of national Woman’s Missionary Union in 1989, the O’Briens moved to Birmingham, and in 1991 Bill O’Brien became founding director of the Global Center at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, a resource for data and conferences ranging from urban strategy, conflict transformation and world Christian mission. He also taught missions at Beeson Divinity School before his retirement in 2000.

O’Brien continued to teach and serve following his retirement.

Bob Garrett, Piper Chair of Missions at Dallas Baptist University, hailed O’Brien as “one of the great leaders among Southern Baptists in his generation” in a comment posted to Facebook.

Bill Leonard, founding dean and professor of divinity emeritus at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, called him “a dear friend and mentor to many of us.”

In recent years O’Brien was active at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, serving as a deacon and Sunday school teacher and singing in the choir.

A memorial service is scheduled 1:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 10 at Wilshire Baptist Church. His sons-in-law Wilshire pastor George Mason and Paul Basden, senior pastor of Preston Trail Church in Frisco and McKinney, Texas, will officiate. The service is set to be streamed for viewing online.

O’Brien was preceded in death by his wife, Dellanna. Survivors include his wife, Charmaine, three children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. (BNG, TAB)