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At 20-year mark, Claude Cone to retire as N.M. executive

ALBUQUERQUE (BP)—Claude Cone will retire March 1, 2005 — 20 years to the day after he became executive director of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico.

Cone, 68, announced his retirement during the quarterly meeting of the convention’s executive board, July 12 in Albuquerque.

His tenure is the second-longest in the 93-year history of the convention, after Harry P. Stagg, who was BCNM corresponding secretary-treasurer from 1938-68.

The board elected a seven-member search committee to recommend Cone’s successor, with Fred MacDonald, a pastor from Alamogordo, to serve as chairman.

Cone told the Baptist New Mexican newsjournal that his “greatest satisfaction” is the many opportunities he has had to “give back to the state that has given so much” to him throughout his life. As a child, Cone moved to the state with his family from Texas; he graduated from high school in Melrose in 1953.

Cone made a profession of faith in Christ in 1946 at Albuquerque’s Riverside Baptist Church during a Royal Ambassadors meeting and was baptized in January 1947 at First Baptist Church.

In retirement, Cone said, “I’m going to go on preaching,” whether it will be “pulpit supply,” revivals or serving as pastor of a small church or as an interim pastor.

He also looks forward to spending more time with his wife, Jeannie, whose health has been gradually declining since she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1986. “Parkinson’s is demanding that,” he said.

Among the many “satisfactions” Cone listed from serving New Mexico Baptists during the past two decades is a consistent growth in Cooperative Program gifts and mission offerings. He said he is especially pleased that it appears that this year will be the third consecutive year the convention will forward more than $1 million in Cooperative Program gifts from churches to the Southern Baptist Convention.

Cone was one of this year’s Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Distinguished Alumni Award recipients. The tribute to Cone in the seminary’s Southwestern News included comments from Cone’s brother-in-law, Larry Miller, pastor of Eastern Hills Baptist Church in Albuquerque. Miller noted that Cone’s busy-ness demonstrates his dedication and that he gives all he can give of himself to churches in the state “regardless of location or the size of the church.”

During the years Cone has led New Mexico Baptists, he has counted only seven Sundays when he did not have a place to preach.

Cone has presented books to ministers during the state evangelism conference each year. He said he thinks he gave three books the first year, which has grown to seven to 10 books every year. He hopes to give away 20 books to every Baptist pastor in the state next February, one for every year he has had the privilege of leading New Mexico Baptists.

At the Inlow Baptist Camp and Conference Center near Albuquerque, a recreation and classroom center has been named the Claude Cone Complex.

Cone often recounts his “Give it Away Twice” testimony in wills and trusts seminars across the state, describing how he and his wife plan to allow the New Mexico Baptist Foundation to manage their estate upon their deaths, giving their daughter and two grandchildren an income from the interest until they receive 1.5 times the value of the estate. New Mexico students at Wayland Baptist University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, along with various other ministries, then will receive the interest income for perpetuity.

Cone assumed his role with the New Mexico convention after 13 years as pastor of First Baptist Church in Pampa, Texas. During his years there, Sunday school attendance grew from 699 to 1,322 and the church increased its Cooperative Program to 23 percent of undesignated receipts.

He had served other churches in Texas the previous 15 years.

Cone and his wife Jeannie, daughter of A.L. Miller, pastor of First Baptist Church in Melrose, were married in 1956 and began their ministry in West Texas while they were students at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview.

“Life is a gift to rejoice in,” Cone said from personal experience. His outlook has remained positive despite personal tragedies that included the death of his mother from blood poisoning 23 days after his birth (“She literally gave her life for me,” Cone has often said) and the murder of his father when he was 14.

Tragedy again struck the Cone household in 1997, when his son, Craig, who was the chief pilot for Flying W Diamond Ranch in Capitan, was killed in an automobile accident in Texas, leaving two small children.

Cone said his son’s sudden death, like his father’s many years earlier, “brought me a fresh realization of the uncertainty of life. … Every day is to be cherished.”

Cone’s daughter, Cathy, is a professor of biology at East Texas Baptist University.

    About the Author

  • John Loudat