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Influential layman Greg Horton dies at 60 after cancer surgery


SIMPSONVILLE, S.C. (BP)–Greg Horton, a man whose faith stretched from his local church in South Carolina to the reshaping of the Southern Baptist Convention and, of key importance to him, to the people of Romania, died in the early morning hours Feb. 18 after surgery for cancer of the esophagus Feb. 17 at St. Francis Hospital, Greenville.

“Greatest love — foreign mission work in Romania,” Horton wrote in a 1995 biographical sheet for his role as a trustee of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina.

Horton, 60, is survived by his wife, Bobbie; two grown sons, Chris and Andy; a daughter, Laurie; and three grandchildren.

The sweep of Horton’s involvements included:

— as a businessman, he was one of three original partners of the Quincy’s Family Steak House chain in the early 1970s, establishing a family oriented restaurant that offered good food without serving alcohol. Horton later sold his shares in that restaurant and, with another group of partners, started the Ryan’s Family Steak House chain.

— in addition to his trustee role at Southeastern Seminary, Horton was one of seven study committee members appointed by the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee who worked from 1993-95 to recommend a convention-wide restructuring, “Covenant for a New Century,” which will be implemented at the close of the SBC’s June annual meeting in Dallas. The recommendations of the Program and Structure Study Committee on which Horton served included a reduction in the number of denominational agencies from 19 to 12 and the creation of a new North American Mission Board.

— in his home state, he was elected president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 1990 — the fifth layman in 50 years to hold the post — and vice president in 1989.

— in missions, Horton and his wife made numerous trips to Romania after an initial visit to the Eastern European country in November 1990. He had made earlier missions trips to South Korea and Australia; in 1991, he also ventured to Brazil.

“We keep returning to Romania because God spoke to our hearts about the great needs there, both physically and spiritually,” Horton told the South Carolina Baptist Courier last August, “and it is amazing how he has multiplied our ministry efforts,” which included personal funds he invested in building churches and in agricultural equipment for Romanian farmers. Horton’s missions commitment also had been the subject of articles in Baptist Press and SBC LIFE in 1994.

Horton was an advocate of church groups traveling to the mission field, noting, “You have to come and get the vision. This can change a person; it can change a church, especially if the pastor is part of it. … This also helps our Southern Baptist mission efforts. When you can say to others in your church, ‘I’ve been there,’ then the personalized impact is much more profound.”

The pastor of the Hortons’ home church, Danny Burnley of Temple Baptist in Simpsonville, indeed has traveled to Romania several times.

Horton’s missions accounts often were riveting, such as a witnessing opportunity resulting from a flight delay at the Cluj-Napoca airport in Romania, in which the air traffic controller was won to Christ in spite of an apparent attempt by the secret police to interrupt the gospel. Said Horton, “That’s the beauty of Romania right now, you can go anywhere and share Christ, in a school, on the street, in a factory or prison, even in the control tower of an airport.”

— in his local church, he was a deacon, a trustee, assistant music director and a choir member. He also had been a part-time minister of music at four South Carolina churches.

“Greg’s heart burned white-hot with a fervor for the Lord and a passion for the lost,” said Morris H. Chapman, president and chief executive officer of the SBC Executive Committee. “God had laid Romania on his heart and a love for Romanians in his soul. Though he was remarkably successful in the business world, nothing brought him greater joy than going church-to-church and door-to-door among the Romanian people with the good news of the gospel.

“He served our denomination with his whole heart, often expressing his belief that God was at work among Southern Baptists and that the Lord meant to use us even more in the coming century,” Chapman continued. “Greg Horton will be missed by his larger Baptist family, by the hundreds who loved his fervor for God, and he will be missed by me.”

A native of Pageland, S.C., Horton studied at Furman University, Greenville, and George Washington University, Washington. He was awarded honorary doctorates by Charleston Southern University in 1990 and Furman in 1991. He also was an Army veteran.

At the time of his death, his business interests included four Ryan’s franchise units.

Funeral services will be at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 20 at Temple Baptist Church, with burial in Graceland East Memorial Park, Simpsonville. Memorials may be made to Temple Baptist Church or North Greenville College, Tigerville, S.C.
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