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John Hamrick, dead at 88, was S.C. college founding president

CHARLESTON, S.C. (BP)–John Hamrick, founding president of the Baptist College at Charleston, now Charleston Southern University, and longtime pastor of First Baptist Church there, died at his Charleston residence on Oct. 24.

After the university’s founding in 1964, enrollment grew to more than 2,000 during Hamrick’s 19 years as president and the college’s facilities expanded to a $40 million institution.

“Dr. John Hamrick was a South Carolina Baptist to the core of his being,” Carlisle Driggers, executive director-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, said in a statement for The Baptist Courier newsjournal Oct. 26.

“Without his zeal and passion for the Lord, First Baptist Church, Charleston, where he served as pastor for many years, would not be the great church it is today. Also, without his vision and dogged determination as the founding president, Charleston Southern would not be the outstanding school it is now,” Driggers said. “South Carolina Baptists shall miss him.”

A native of Fountain Inn, S.C., Hamrick moved to Charleston with his family in 1927. He was ordained as a minister at age 19 by First Baptist Church. Five years later, he was called as the church’s pastor and served the historic Charleston congregation for 29 years. He was later named pastor emeritus.

Membership grew from 200 to 1,400 during his pastorate, and Hamrick founded the First Baptist Church School in 1949, serving as its superintendent for 20 years. Today, the school is an accredited college preparatory school with an approximate enrollment of 500.

Active in state convention life, Hamrick was co-founder and first president of the South Carolina Baptist Historical Society in 1948 and served as president of the state convention in 1951. He also was a member of Furman University’s trustee board.

On the Southern Baptist Convention level, Hamrick was a member of the former Southern Baptist Historical Commission and the former Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission.

A graduate of the College of Charleston and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Hamrick was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree by Furman in 1953 in recognition of his service to the denomination. He also received a doctor of laws degree from the Atlanta Law School in 1965.

Hamrick was named a distinguished alumnus of the College of Charleston in 1993 and received the Order of the Palmetto from the governor of South Carolina in 1994.

After retirement, Hamrick served as interim pastor at Ashley River Baptist Church, Charleston, and at First Baptist Church, Charleston twice.

First Baptist Church member Mitch Carnell, a Charleston teacher and lecturer in communications, said, “Dr. Hamrick was the most provocative minister I have ever known. His breadth of knowledge, his razor-sharp logic and spiritual insight, combined with his dynamic style, always left me eager for more. He had the unique ability to see an issue from all sides and to engage you in taking another look.

“He personified his credo that if God gives you a task to do, He also provides a way for you to do it,” Carnell noted. “The effect he had on my life, my view of God and my understanding of the responsibility of Christians in the world is immeasurable.”

Hamrick is survived by his wife of 21 years, Jane Scarpa Ezell Hamrick. Among other survivors are a son, John A. Hamrick Jr. of Charleston; two daughters, Carol Ezell-Gilson of Charleston and Mary Nance Ezell McDonough of Knoxville, Tenn.; eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Margaret Kelly Hamrick, and a daughter, Margaret Clare Hamrick Hollingsworth.

Funeral services are scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 27, at 12:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church, Charleston.

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  • Todd Deaton