2013: The year in deaths

The year 2013 witnessed the passing of several high profile Baptists.

Dan Ariail, pastor emeritus of Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., where thousands of visitors attend Sunday worship and Bible studies by President Jimmy Carter each year, died Nov. 25 in hospice care. He was 75.

Justice Anderson, 83, longtime professor of missiology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas," died Dec. 29 of a heart attack. Anderson was a member of Agape Baptist Church in Fort Worth, a congregation started in 2005 that is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Baptist General Convention of Texas and Baptist World Alliance.

Latha Bandela, 66, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field worker for more than 17 years until 2011, died Oct. 11. She suffered a brain aneurysm and passed away at an Atlanta-area hospital.  

Gwen Brown, 59, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church planter and adjunct professor at McAfee School of Theology, died Aug. 27. She was founding pastor of Cornerstone Church in Snellville, Ga., which began as a Bible study in her home in 2005. The group incorporated as a church in 2009 and met in various locations before settling in a permanent sanctuary in February 2012.

will CampbellfaWill Campbell, 88, author, activist and iconoclastic Baptist minister who described himself as a “bootleg preacher,” died June 3 from complications following a stroke suffered in 2011. Campbell wrote numerous books from his farm in Mount Juliet, Tenn., described in his 1986 memoir Forty Acres and a Goat. Brother to a Dragonfly, a tribute he wrote to his brother in 1977, won a National Book Award nomination and was named one of Time magazine's 10 most notable works of nonfiction of the decade.

Van Cliburn, 78, a concert pianist hailed as one of history’s greatest classical musicians, died Feb. 27 from bone cancer. Cliburn was a member of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, where his generosity included a sizable donation to help purchase the Rildia Bee O'Bryan Cliburn Organ, with 191 ranks and 10,655 pipes — the largest organ in Texas. The organ was named after Cliburn’s mother and completed in 1996.

Steve Davis, 60, a former star college football quarterback who talked about his Christian faith in large venues long before Tim Tebow was born, died March 17 in a plane crash. The former Oklahoma quarterback and his friend Wesley Caves, 58, were killed when the Beechcraft Premier I twin-engine jet they were piloting crashed into a neighborhood near South Bend, Ind.

Seth Dorrell, 32-year-old director of Mission Waco’s global arm — Mission World — died of a heart attack June 16 while he was serving on a mission trip in Mexico with his family. Dorrell’s heart attack was believed to be related to his two-year battle with cancer, his family said.

Leonard Hill, 83, a career writer and editor of various publications of the Southern Baptist Convention, died Feb. 18 in Nashville, Tenn. Hill served many years as managing editor of the Baptist Program, a monthly publication long published by the SBC Executive Committee that went out to 50,000 Southern Baptist pastors, education directors, music directors, chaplains, missionaries, denominational workers and professors.

bill hullWilliam Hull, 83, a renowned Baptist preacher, author and provost at both Samford University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, died Dec. 10 after a battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Hull taught New Testament 17 years at Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and held administrative positions including dean and provost before accepting the pastorate at First Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., in 1975.

Don Hustad, 94, a leader in evangelical church music who taught for decades at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, died June 22. Hustad, once full-time organist for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, served on the faculty of Southern Seminary’s School of Church Music from 1966 until his retirement in 1986. He continued to teach courses and lecture at the seminary in Louisville, Ky., for the next 20 years.

H. Leon McBeth, retired chair of the history department at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, died April 29 at age 81. He wrote nine books, including The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness, published in 1987.

Duke McCall, 98, died April 2 in the company of his wife and family at his home in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., from congestive heart failure and respiratory distress. McCall held numerous high-level leadership positions in Baptist life, including serving as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1951-1982.

Vivian Nielsen, 86, a past president of the District of Columbia Baptist Convention and leader in Washington’s Calvary Baptist Church, died Jan. 4 after a battle with cancer. In 1981, Nielsen became the third woman to be elected president of the D.C. convention. Her husband for 68 years, Aldon Nielsen, a layman who worked more than 40 years in government service, later was elected to the same post in 1990.

pucketheadshot2R.G. “Gene” Puckett, longtime editor of Baptist newspapers, died May 12, months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Puckett, 80, worked as a Baptist journalist longer than any person in the 20th century. He was a founding director of Associated Baptist Press and chairman of the board.

Buryl Red, a renowned composer, conductor, producer and arranger known around the world as musical director of The CenturyMen and composer of the 1972 classic Celebrate Life, died April 1 after a battle with cancer. A graduate of Baylor and Yale universities and born in Little Rock, Ark., Red, 77, wrote more than 1,600 published compositions and arrangements, many of them award-winning.

Donald Rutledge, a renowned photographer whose images of mission activities are familiar to Baptists around the world, died Feb. 19 at 82. Rutledge’s work was published in magazines and books around the globe, winning more than 400 awards. He worked for the Black Star photo agency in New York for more than 30 years, as well as the Southern Baptist Convention’s Foreign (now International) Mission Board and Home (now North American) Mission Board.

Karen Louise Shahan, 52, an Alabama Baptist minister’s wife, was found dead in her home July 23 in a case that police regard as an apparent homicide. Her husband, Richard Shahan, children and families pastor and facilities director at First Baptist Church in Birmingham, was questioned by police but not charged. The church put him on leave of absence, and recent news reports indicate he is planning to leave the country to serve as a missionary in Germany.

Theo Sommerkamp, 84, a longtime Baptist journalist known to friends for his strong love for railroad trains, died April 19. Sommerkamp worked many years as assistant director of Baptist Press, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention, in Nashville, Tenn. He later worked at European Baptist Press Services, then based in Switzerland, and at the SBC Annuity Board before becoming editor of the Ohio Baptist Messenger in 1976, where he worked until retirement in 1994.

Steve Tondera, 79, of Huntsville, Ala., a layman active in the resistance to a conservative faction that won control of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s, died Feb. 13. A former NASA administrator and progressive cattleman, he was a dedicated churchman active in Huntsville’s First Baptist Church.

Terry Walton, a 15-year employee of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Atlanta, died Oct. 17 at her home in Cornelia, Ga., with complications from cancer. Walton, 51, worked in positions including associate coordinator for marketing and resource development and manager of Missional Gatherings. She was diagnosed shortly after leaving her job.

Matthew Warren, 27, son of pastor and author Rick Warren, battled his whole life with mental illness and depression before committing suicide April 5.