BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Longtime Southern Baptist education leader Arthur L. Walker Jr. died early Jan. 14 in Birmingham, Ala. He was 78.
Walker held a unique position in Southern Baptist Convention life as executive director of two SBC entities — the Education Commission and the Commission on the American Baptist Theological Seminary. He held both posts from 1978 until his retirement in 1993. Both entities were dissolved in the mid-1990s under the SBC’s “Covenant for a New Century” restructuring plan.
Following his retirement, Walker returned to his native Birmingham and taught part-time at Samford University for several years.
Walker spent his adult ministry in Christian higher education. He taught for many years at his alma mater, Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham, and served as dean of students and later vice president for student affairs at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. He also served numerous churches in Alabama as interim pastor and was author of the book, “Southern Baptist Trusteeship.” While at the Education Commission, he edited the publication’s newsletter, The Southern Baptist Educator.
Walker was remembered by colleagues and friends not only for his dedication and love for Christian higher education but also for his integrity and Christian faith and witness.
“He balanced well his multiple staff roles as [Education Commission] head, editor, writer, teacher, counselor and trusted friend,” said Tim Fields, who served with Walker at the Education Commission.
“Dr. Walker was a man of uncompromising integrity, unshakeable faith and impeccable Christian witness,” said Fields, director of communications for the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools.
“His churchmanship, captivating preaching, deep concern for the welfare of others and dedication to excellence in Christian higher education are a testimony to his deep and abiding faith in Christ and to the mission and ministry of Southern Baptists,” Fields added.
Juanita Wilkinson, another co-worker of Walker’s, recalled being “impressed with the manner in which he encouraged each employee to reach the potential possible in personal effort and in the work assignments on hand. He was always fair in dealing with any questions that might arise.
“He was a gentleman and exemplified a complete commitment to the leadership of the Lord in daily living,” she said.
Bob Agee, former president of Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, worked closely with Walker during his tenure as executive director of the Education Commission. Agee currently is executive director of the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools (which at one time was under the umbrella of the Education Commission).
“He approached his work with a deep and genuine devotion to the cause of Christian higher education and with a heart to see Southern Baptists leading the way in quality education,” said Agee, who now resides in Jackson, Tenn.
“His marvelous background as an educator and his commitment to historic Baptist theology and polity equipped him so well for the task,” Agee said. “He was always available to help schools whenever they needed him and he was an excellent resource for schools and state conventions.”
Thomas E. Corts, president of Samford University and a fellow member of Brookwood Baptist Church in Birmingham, recounted, “As a preacher boy at Samford years ago, the potential of Christian higher education made a deep impression upon him — an impression deepened by his decades of service as a professor and administrator, and then as chief advocate for Baptist colleges and universities. He dedicated his life to that ministry.
“He brought a warm pastoral approach to all he did,” Corts said. “His integrity and conviction earned great respect among colleagues privileged to work with him.”
James Taylor, president of the University of the Cumberlands (formerly Cumberland College) in Williamsburg, Ky., said Walker “had a profound, significant, enduring impact not only on higher education throughout the world, but also specifically on our Southern Baptist-affiliated institutions of higher education. He will not be soon forgotten, but will be long remembered for his enduring impact on the lives of many.”
The Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools awarded Walker its highest honor, the Charles D Johnson Outstanding Educator Award prior to his retirement.
Walker also had the respect of his SBC peers.
“Arthur Walker was a senior leader in SBC life when I came to the Baptist Sunday School Board [now LifeWay Christian Resources] in 1983,” said former President Lloyd Elder, founding director of the Moench Center at Belmont University in Nashville.
“He graciously received me and became a valued co-worker in our [respective] assignments. I recognized in him thoughtfulness, scholarship, integrity and a profound faith,” Elder said.
Walker is survived by his wife, Gladys; a daughter, Marcia Walker Hamby, director of counseling services at Samford; and three grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held Jan. 17 at 11 a.m. at Brookwood Baptist Church in Birmingham, where Walker had been an active member and Sunday School teacher. Walker’s brother, Roy, and Barry C. Howard, former pastor at Brookwood, will officiate. Visitation will be Jan. 16 from 4-6 p.m. at Jefferson Memorial Funeral Home in Hoover, Ala.
Memorials are suggested to the Gregory Arthur Walker Scholarship Fund, Samford University, 800 Lakeshore Drive, Birmingham, AL 35229.
Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist & Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, also worked under Arthur Walker at the former SBC Education Commission. “Dr. Walker was the person who saw something (I still don’t really know what) in a green, fresh-out-of college country boy from South Carolina who was just beginning a career in Christian communications/journalism,” Wilkey recounts. “He took a chance on me and gave me a job as director of communications for the Southern Baptist Education Commission. The almost six years I spent on his staff were some of the most rewarding of my life. … Arthur Walker was the essence of a Christian gentleman. He loved the Lord, Christian education and Southern Baptist colleges and schools with a passion.”