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Former mission leader Bill Tanner dies


BELTON, Texas (BP)–William G. (Bill) Tanner, who served as president of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board from 1977-86 and in multiple leadership roles throughout the Southern Baptist Convention, died June 10 in Belton, Texas. He was 77.

Tanner’s leadership of the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board) was marked by the beginning of the Mission Service Corps (MSC) volunteer missionary program as well as an increased emphasis on language missions and strengthened partnerships between the national missions entity and state Baptist convention partners.

Geoff Hammond, president of the North American Mission Board, expressed his gratitude for the legacy Tanner left for the home mission field.

“I am thankful for Dr. Tanner’s vision and foresight,” Hammond said. “He saw an opportunity to greatly expand our home missionary force and he did so with Mission Service Corps. He saw the need to minister to the nations coming to North America and he greatly enhanced language missions.

“All of us at NAMB will be thinking about and praying for Dr. Tanner’s wife Ellen and the rest of his family during this time of loss,” Hammond said. “A great servant has gone on to his reward.”

Ernest Kelley, who served as a coordinator working with state Baptist conventions in the western United States during Tanner’s tenure, said Tanner’s commitment to the MSC program was essential to its strong beginning.

“Dr. Tanner immediately embraced the idea of Mission Service Corps and gave it the high-profile attention and funding it needed to get established and off the ground,” Kelley said. “He even insisted that the MSC office be located right next to his so he could give it the attention it needed.”

In addition to his service at the Home Mission Board, Tanner served as president of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor from 1967-71, president of Oklahoma Baptist University from 1971-76 and executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma from 1986-96. He served as pastor of several churches earlier in his ministry.

Kelley said Tanner was well-known for his ability to remember names and faces.

“He worked at it, though,” Kelley said. “He kept a staff directory on his desk and studied it. When he rode the elevator with a staff member, he knew them by name and probably their spouse and children too.”

Tanner also known for his sense of humor and a keen sense for finances.

“He always had an Aggie joke,” Kelley recalled. “But once it was time for business, he zeroed right in on the topic at hand. I remember reviewing budgets with him one year and he went over every detail, line by line, and asked me questions about it.”

Tanner is survived by his wife Ellen, but information about other survives was not available at press time.

Tanner’s memorial service will take place at 2 p.m. Thursday, June 14, at First Baptist Church in Belton, Texas. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the President William G. and Ellen Yates Tanner Endowed Scholarship at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, 900 College Street, Belton, TX 76513.
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