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At funeral, Naylor’s leadership, love of Scripture, preaching cited

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–“A giant has walked among us,” Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Kenneth S. Hemphill said of former President Robert Naylor, “and we shall miss him.”
About 1,700 people gathered to remember Naylor, 90, at a Feb. 24 funeral service at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Naylor died Feb. 21 at his Fort Worth home.
“Perhaps no single president in the history of this school had such an impact on the institution,” Hemphill said of Naylor, who had a 60-year history with the Fort Worth seminary. “He reflected the very spirit of what it means to be a Southwesterner.”
Those who spoke remembered Naylor as a deeply faithful man of God who never ceased to dedicate his life to the study and proclamation of the gospel.
Michael Dean, pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church, where Naylor had served as pastor from 1952-58, remembered Naylor as an “enormous figure in the kingdom of God in this generation” and expressed his admiration for Naylor’s courage, leadership and statesmanship.
Encountering Naylor for the first time at a Southwestern chapel service, Dean, then a student, said he was “instantly impressed with [Naylor’s] love and devotion to the Holy Scriptures and the dignity and passion with which he quoted the Scriptures.”
The former president was also praised as a faithful friend by John Seelig, Southwestern vice president for public affairs emeritus and a close friend of Naylor’s. Seelig briefly recounted the story of Naylor’s life, from his birth in Oklahoma in 1909 through his petitioning President R.L. Scarborough for early admission to Southwestern in 1928.
Seelig echoed Dean’s words about Naylor’s dedication to the Bible, saying, “Robert Naylor was a man of faith who loved God’s Word. He ran a good race.”
His voice filled with emotion, Seelig summed up what Naylor had meant to him: “He was my boss for over 20 years. But he was more than a boss. He was my mentor. He was my friend, but he was more than that. He was family. Friends are family that you choose. Some people come into your lives, and you’re never, ever the same again.
“He was a man of genuine integrity who lived and laughed and loved with all his might.”
James Coggin, pastor emeritus of Travis Avenue, remembered Naylor more for his preaching than for his other achievements.
“There are so many accolades that could be bestowed on Bob Naylor. Above all, he was a great, great preacher. Nothing overshadowed this,” he said.
Naylor believed in the power and permanence of proclaiming the Word of God, said Coggin, and that was manifested in all Naylor did.
“He knew the Bible, he lived by it, he memorized it and he preached it with power. He was one of the most faithful servants of the Lord,” Coggin added.
Hemphill agreed Naylor knew the Word of God very well.
“He may well have been one of the greatest expositors of his generation,” Hemphill said.
Naylor was a deep believer in requiring evidence of a divine call to the ministry from students and would ask them why they were at seminary whenever he was on campus.
Naylor served as president of Southwestern from1958-78 and then as president emeritus from 1978 on. During his tenure, five major building projects were begun or completed, expanding the seminary greatly, and enrollment topped 4,100, making Southwestern one of the largest seminaries in the world.
Prior to his tenure as president, Naylor served on the board of trustees and as chairman of the board. He also pastored a number of churches in Arkansas, Oklahoma and South Carolina before taking up his duties at Travis Avenue.
Following the funeral, Naylor’s body was buried at Greenwood Memorial Park.

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  • Cory J. Hailey