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Millie Gill: From hardship to a job rich in faith & friends

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–Millie Gill is not a wealthy woman. But if wealth were measured by friendships, she would be a multimillionaire.

Gill was recognized for 25 years of service to the Arkansas Baptist Newsmagazine this year. During those years she has developed deep friendships with Baptists across the state.

In December 1975, Gill joined the staff of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention as a secretary for the annuity office and as a Newsmagazine staff writer.

“I don’t think they gave me a title,” Gill said. “I was just the girl who was available to do whatever needed to be done.”

As executive assistant to the editor in recent years, Gill does all of administrative tasks that title demands, plus she is a writer, photographer, historian and walking encyclopedia of Arkansas Baptist life.

Life dealt her a severe blow before she went to work for Arkansas Baptists. Her husband died the year before, leaving her with a 9-year-old daughter and an overwhelming indebtedness she had known nothing about. Determined to pay the debts, Gill simply worked hard, lived frugally and chipped away at the bills until they were paid seven years later.

To her, the Baptist job was an answer to prayer.

“I had asked God to open a door of service for me, and he opened the door,” Gill recounted.

Born in Missouri, she moved with her family to Yarbro, Ark., a little community north of Blytheville, when she was 4 years old. She grew up through First Baptist Church, Blytheville, Ark., graduated from Blytheville High School and worked on the staff of the Blytheville newspaper for 10 years.

She married and moved with her husband to Dell, southwest of Blytheville, where they ran a farm. They moved to Dallas, Texas, in December 1973. He died within a year.

Gill returned to Arkansas and went to work at a school in Dell, where she began to pray for a chance to serve God.

“The Lord answered my prayer through me working at a Baptist summer camp,” she said. “The director of missions knew I had some journalism experience and knew of the opening here,” she continued. “He recommended me for the position. Dr. Sneed [Everett Sneed, then Newsmagazine editor] called me and I came down for an interview with him and Dr. Rucker [T.K. Rucker, annuity secretary]. I was hired the day I came.”

She has seen a few changes since then. Stories were typed on Royal typewriters and sent to the printer to be set into type. Galleys were proofread and sent back to the printer for corrections.

Page layouts were done by cutting and pasting typeset galleys onto cardboard layout sheets.

She remembers when the first typesetting equipment arrived. She learned to become a typesetter.

“The photo lab, the typesetting equipment and my office were all in the same room,” Gill recalled. “Every time I used the photo lab the moisture would jam up the printer.”

Today, the whole process is done with desktop publishing.

“I’m glad I’ve been around to see the giant growth that the Newsmagazine has taken in its publication, from the cutting and pasting to going to the printer on a disk like it is now,” Gill said. “It’s been amazing to me to see.”

About 1977, Sneed asked Gill to take over the photo lab responsibilities, developing film and printing photographs. She agreed, if he would allow her to get the training for the responsibility. She took courses and had one-on-one classes with a photographer who taught her darkroom skills.

Don Rutledge, longtime photographer for both the North American and International Mission boards, also provided photographic training. She continued working on photography skills, attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s photography workshop 14 times through the years.

“Many of the people knew me as the lady with the camera,” she said. “If I put the camera down they didn’t recognize who I was.”

Gill has never been bashful about doing whatever it takes to get a good picture. During one annual meeting of the state convention, she asked several people on a church pew to move. She then removed her shoes, stood on the pew, and shot the photo she needed. At one note-burning she didn’t get what she wanted when the actual note was burned, so she had them burn another piece of paper to get the shot she wanted.

Another task Gill has faithfully performed almost from the beginning of her tenure was to read church newsletters, looking for news to include in the Newsmagazine’s “People & Places” section. That responsibility, along with the people she has met as she traveled the state, is what makes her a walking encyclopedia. She knows hundreds of Arkansas Baptists, remembers their names and can tell you which church they serve.

“I have concentrated so I would always have that information available when it was needed,” she explained. “Doing as many of the staff changes as I do, it helps me keep in place where each of those men are.”

But Gill hasn’t just made acquaintances. She has made friends.

“One of the first Woman’s Missionary Union meetings I ever covered I did by myself,” Gill said. “Huber and Minette Drumwright were the speakers and that began a real good friendship I’ve always been proud of.”

Drumwright was then a professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, but later became executive director of the ABSC; his wife later became a prayer leader for the International Mission Board.

But whether she was meeting a state convention president, a bivocational pastor in a small rural church or a church WMU leader, Gill viewed each as a potential friend.

“One of the things I appreciate more than anything is the number of friends I have made,” Gill said of her 25 years.

She has worked with every one of the Newsmagazine’s boards of directors and befriended them. She has abiding friendships with people who have come and gone from the Baptist building through the years. While securing Sunday school lesson writers and woman’s viewpoint writers, she likewise has developed friendships.

During her years, Gill has attended many SBC annual meetings, sometimes covering the event for the Newsmagazine, other years working for the SBC newsroom staff. She has enjoyed visiting headquarters of the WMU, the International Mission Board, the Annuity Board and other SBC institutions.

Another major thrill was a visit to the Holy Land, along with staff members from other state Baptist papers. “It was exciting to walk where Jesus walked,” Gill said.

When she is not around to provide instant information about Baptist life, one can go to the indexes she has maintained since 1977 to find what they need.

She has influenced many lives, including the three editors she has assisted, but she is particularly proud of one young man she witnessed to who is now on the mission field.

Beyond her work through the years at the Newsmagazine, her life has focused on her daughter, Lu Ann. In recent years Lu Ann has shared that attention with her husband, Steve Gartrell, and their son, Stephen.

But when Lu Ann was younger, the lines between Newsmagazine and family were blurred. As a single mom, Gill often had to take Lu Ann with her on assignments covering church events.

At one building dedication, the pastor jokingly asked Lu Ann if she wanted to preach the dedication message for him.

“She told him she could, she had heard enough of them,” Gill recalled. “I tried to spend as much time on Saturdays doing what she wanted to do as I possibly could. I didn’t maintain everything at home as perfectly as it should be, but I tried to devote that day to her, knowing we were going to have to be somewhere on Sunday.”

She said Lu Ann began to resent having to accompany her to those Baptist meetings about the time she learned to drive. So Millie let her do the driving.

“It was what was needed to keep her happy,” Gill said. “While she resented it then, she can look back on it now and see that God was preparing her for her role today.”

Gill’s son-in-law is a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, preparing for ministry. Lu Ann is well equipped to be a minister’s wife, due to her exposure to so many churches through the years. But Lu Ann is also an expert in her field. She earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in early childhood education at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Her focus is exceptional children.

Gill is proud of Lu Ann, but mention her 12-year-old grandson and her eyes really light up.

“He’s a strong little Christian man,” she said.

Millie Gill counts her many blessings. She truly is rich in friendships, family and faith heritage.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: MILLIE GILL.

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  • Charlie Warren