Gary Fenton says that in 1975, Bob Terry made a statement that changed the course of his life.
At the time, Terry had just been tapped as editor of Missouri’s Word & Way newspaper, and those on the executive board — which included Fenton — were still unsure of the search committee’s wisdom in putting such a young man in charge during a contentious season for Missouri Baptists. Could he handle it?
Terry responded to them with a quote from E. Stanley Jones — “There comes one experience in every man’s life in which he must put all of his weight on Jesus or forever live as a coward.”
“He was not aware of it at the time, but I was dealing with a call in my own life and had decided not to go,” Fenton said.
After the vote — which was affirmative — Fenton “walked out of the room, found a pay phone, called the church and said, ‘If you still want me, I’ll come.’ It changed the course of my life and ministry.”
Fenton, now senior advancement officer for Samford University and former longtime pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham, told those present at Terry’s retirement celebration that Terry has spent his life as a “word man” who uses his gift to impact others.
“Your gift with words has been used to express thoughts, but it was also used to build lasting relationships,” he said. “That’s why this room is filled tonight.”
More than 225 of Terry’s friends, family and ministry colleagues gathered at The Club in Birmingham on Oct. 5 to celebrate his 50 years in state Baptist paper work and 23 years as editor of The Alabama Baptist (TAB).
He will retire Dec. 31.
Presentations in his honor
Numerous presentations — including a commendation from Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey and a resolution passed by the Alabama Senate — took place during the celebration. Resolutions, commendations, certificates and gifts came from Baptist World Alliance, International Mission Board, North American Mission Board, Alabama Baptist Historical Commission, Judson College in Marion and the Association of State Baptist Publications (ASBP).
Scholarships and gifts to endowments were among other special moments during the evening.
Sandy Wisdom-Martin, executive director of national Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU), and David George, president of WMU Foundation, presented a gift in Terry’s honor to the endowment for the Dr. Eleanor F. Terry Chair for Christian Women’s Leadership at Samford University, established in honor of his late wife in 1999.
Timothy Smith, president of University of Mobile, announced the creation of the Dr. Bob Terry Endowed Scholarship at the university and presented him with an official presidential proclamation commending Terry’s service and leadership.
ASBP President Tim Yarbrough shared that ASBP established the Dr. Bobby S. “Bob” Terry Scholarship for journalism and mass communications students at Samford University in Birmingham in his honor.
Arthur Williams, chairman of TAB’s board of directors, followed Yarbrough with an announcement that the TAB board voted to send a gift of $25,000 to the scholarship fund to ensure it was officially endowed in time for Terry’s retirement dinner. The scholarship has received nearly $30,000 to date.
Williams also announced that the TAB board of directors had named Terry the first-ever editor emeritus of The Alabama Baptist.
One of the most emotional moments for Terry came when Samford President Andrew Westmoreland bestowed on him a doctor of humane letters honoris causa, an award Samford has made only 361 times in its 177-year history.
Another emotional moment came at the close when Terry’s cousin and popular Southern Baptist evangelist Junior Hill prayed over him following the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” being sung by Dawson music associate Brent Coleman.
“I’m very humbled to be standing in this place,” Terry said. “I’ve tried to be a good and faithful servant to God and to Baptists. Thank you for the privilege and the opportunity.”
Terry’s first two managing editors were among those sharing during the celebration.
Trennis Henderson, national correspondent for WMU and former Baptist editor, shared stories of how Terry mentored him in life as well as in overseeing a state Baptist newspaper. “He was my boss, my editor, my friend and, most importantly, my Christian brother.”
In the role of editor, Henderson said Terry was “an authentic Baptist editor who knew when and how to make a stand.”
Throughout the decades, Terry has led with wisdom and tackled tough issues, sometimes covering more in just a few months than most editors would in years, Henderson said. “Bob does it week after week, year after year, decade after decade.”
Michael Chute, professor of journalism at California Baptist University and former Baptist editor, said that besides his parents and his wife, Terry “has probably been the most influential person in my life.”
“Bob Terry took a raw young man 40 years ago and poured himself into my life,” said Chute, recounting the story of when Terry hired him as managing editor of Word & Way. “Your contribution will surely be missed, but I hope this is another great season in a life that has contributed so much to so many.”
After he retires, Terry will continue to write on relevant topics at his new blog, drbobterry.com.