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C.E. Bryant, first Baptist Press director & communications pioneer, dies at 82

BELLEVILLE, Ill. (BP)–C.E. Bryant, the first director of Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service, died Jan. 7 in Belleville, Ill. He had been hospitalized for 10 days with the flu and pneumonia, according to a family friend. Bryant was 82.

Bryant, whose work at Baptist Press began in 1947, the year after it was founded, also was the first director of communications of the Baptist World Alliance, from 1957 until his retirement in 1982, and was a key chronicler of the BWA’s history.

After directing Baptist Press from 1947-49, he returned to Baylor University, Waco, Texas, his alma mater, where he worked as director of public relations from 1949-57 and where he began his journalistic work as a student during the late 1930s.

“C.E. Bryant was a trailblazer for modern-day Baptist journalists,” said Bob Terry, editor of The Alabama Baptist newsjournal and executive secretary of the Association of State Baptist Papers. “He helped drive down the stakes that set the direction of Baptist journalism as it is known today. He was a transitional figure who demonstrated the value of professional journalism training in the work of the church. He brought expertise to every position he served and encouraged those of us who followed him to achieve the highest standards.”

W.C. Fields, vice president for public relations and director of Baptist Press from 1959-87, said Bryant “was a man of great talent, but it expressed itself in service. He was one of the finest journalists that Southern Baptists have had over these many years.”

Wendy Ryan, the BWA’s current director of communications, the fourth to hold the position, said, “C.E. Bryant called me the first week I came to the BWA to encourage me, and not a year has passed since 1988 when I have not had some word from him of continual support, praise and even correction. I could always rely on his help and I will miss him greatly.”

James Leo Garrett Jr., distinguished professor of theology, emeritus, at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas, said of Bryant, “Loyal to Baptist principles and devoted to the Baptist people, C.E. was faithful to his calling. I was once privileged to serve as his interim pastor and can testify to his genuine commitment to the Lord and to his local church.”

Garrett also noted that Bryant “was an able pioneer in religious journalism for Baptists. Insisting on accuracy and competence, he set the pace for news coverage of Baptist life.”

Bryant was a charter member of the Baptist Public Relations Association, now the Baptist Communicators Association. He also was active in the Religious Public Relations Council.

He also was a freelance writer, enjoying a long relationship with the Reader’s Digest, which published two feature articles he authored and for which he had been a humor proofreader from 1981 until his death. He also authored one book, “Operation Brother’s Brother: The Story of Robert Hingson, Developer of the Jet Vaccinator.”

Born Cyril Eric Bryant Jr., he was a native of Booneville, Ark.

“His great-grandfather was a circuit-riding preacher in Arkansas and Oklahoma, who was determined that C.E. be a preacher,” said Jim Newton, a former Baptist Press assistant director and now president of Newton Communications, Clinton, Miss., who had carried on an e-mail correspondence with Bryant for three months before his death.

Bryant was ordained by his home church at age 18. “He felt a ‘calling’ to religious journalism before it was ever considered a valid vocation in Baptist life,” Newton recounted. “When his home church and his great-grandfather wanted to ordain him to the ministry, he told them he was more interested in journalism than the pulpit. But in those days, ‘religious journalism’ as a religious vocation did not exist.”

After attending Ouachita College (now University) in Arkadelphia, Ark., for two years, Bryant went to Baylor in 1937 to study journalism under the late Frank Burkhalter, the first head of the university’s journalism department, and he also got a job freelancing for the Associated Press to help pay his college expenses.

Bryant graduated from Baylor in 1939 and was hired to head the university’s public relations office, working there until 1942, when World War II drastically cut the student body. He did public relations work at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Assembly (now Ridgecrest, a LifeWay Conference Center) in the summer of 1942, then at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. In 1943, he became assistant editor of the Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine, where he worked for four years.

At the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee where he edited Baptist Press, he also was editor of the former Baptist Program journal.

“I first met C.E. Bryant when I was a freshman journalism student at Baylor in 1954,” Newton said. “He was my first ‘role model’ as a religious journalist and as a public relations professional. … He always encouraged me to write and to be the best journalist I could be in fulfillment of that high calling.”

Newton added that Bryant was “undaunted by the technological revolution and often spent four to five hours a day on the Internet. He read Baptist Press and the Baptist Standard [Texas newsjournal] on the Internet, rather than getting them in the mail. He carried on lively and interesting e-mail correspondence with me and others until his illness in December.”

Bryant and his wife, Flossie, who survives, have been members of Winstanley Baptist Church, Fairview Heights, Ill. For 15 years after retirement, they lived in Spartanburg, S.C.

Other survivors include a son, James of Belleville, Ill.; a daughter, Mary Smith of Warren, N.J.; seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Jan. 10 at George Renner & Sons Funeral Home, Belleville. Burial will be in Lakeview Memorial Gardens, Fairview Heights.

Memorials may be made to Hospice of Southern Illinois or the Winstanley Baptist Church’s building fund.