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Nancy Sullivan, ministers’ wives pioneer, dies

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP) — Nancy Hinson Sullivan, wife of John Sullivan, retired executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, died Wednesday (Aug. 12) at Memorial Hospital. The 83-year-old suffered a heart attack in June and a stroke a week prior to her death.

Nancy Sullivan was born with a twin sister Aug. 21, 1936, in Jonesboro, Ark. She met John Travis Sullivan in Washington, D.C., while they both worked for the FBI. While they were dating, Nancy took John to her Southern Baptist church, assuming he was a Christian. But her father discerned he was not and told her so.

They were married on June 24, 1955. Almost two months later, Nancy presented the plan of salvation to her new husband and led him to Christ. He was baptized at Congress Heights Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and ordained to the gospel ministry in December 1957 by First Baptist Church in Cupertino, Calif.

After serving alongside her husband in churches for 32 years, Nancy became Florida Baptists’ first lady when John was elected to lead the state convention in 1989. Until he retired in 2015, Nancy crisscrossed the state, visiting churches alongside her husband.

“It was like they were one person,” said Susan Owens, of St. Augustine, a close friend. “She traveled every mile he traveled. She was always right there with him, encouraging him. She was special. I will hold onto many memories. She was my mentor, friend. I loved her dearly.”

Nancy Sullivan always defined her role as “John’s wife.” She had a burden for pastors’ wives who were hurting and would often say, “As a pastor’s wife for 32 years, I want to say that it can be great. We have great memories of every church we have ever served.”

According to her husband, “Other than her family, Nancy loved ministers’ wives more than anything.”

In 1992, Nancy Sullivan served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ministers’ Wives Conference, a job that included planning and hosting, held during the SBC annual meeting, as well as raising funds to underwrite the luncheon costs.

Dismayed that many pastors’ wives could not afford to attend the luncheon, she established the Ministers’ Wives Endowment Fund, approaching friends, acquaintances, churches, state Baptist conventions and SBC agencies for contributions. Recently the name of the fund was renamed “The Nancy Sullivan Endowment Fund” for the SBC Ministers’ Wives Luncheon in honor of her efforts.

“There was no one like Nancy Sullivan. Her heart was extraordinary,” said Susie Hawkins, a Southern Baptist women’s leader and wife of GuideStone Financial Resources President O.S. Hawkins. “Her encouragement and vision with ministers’ wives was the driving force to establish an endowment fund to lower prices so that every wife could enjoy the luncheon. She worked tirelessly for years.

“No one is indispensable to the Kingdom of God, but some are irreplaceable and that was Nancy Sullivan.”

Rhonda Kelley, wife of New Orleans Theological Seminary president emeritus and adjunct professor of women’s ministries, said Nancy Sullivan was a “long time dear friend. I will always be grateful for her personally investing in my life as a young minister’s wife.

“One of her great contributions to the Kingdom of God and Southern Baptists was her commitment to ministers’ wives. We will ever be grateful for the endowment she established to secure funds for the ministers’ wives luncheon.

“May we all live godly and faithful lives as she did.”

Among honors Sullivan received were the “Mrs. J.M. Dawson Award for Outstanding Services” presented by the Southern Baptist Convention Ministers’ Wives in 1999 and the “Clyde Merrill Maguire Award for Ministers’ Wives,” presented by the Florida Baptist Convention’s Ministers’ Wives in 1998. November, 1998.

She is survived by her husband, three grown children — son John Michael (Jennifer) Sullivan of Stuttgart, Ark., and daughters Cheryl Ann Anderson (William) Allen of Nashville and Jeanie (Sam) Wendt of Fayetteville, Ark. — as well as five grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

She was a member of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, where John serves as senior adults pastor.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Notes and cards can be sent to John Sullivan at 4451 Charter Point Blvd., Jacksonville, Fla. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting gifts be made to The Nancy Sullivan Endowment Fund for the SBC Ministers’ Wives Luncheon, which can be sent to their home or online at the Southern Baptist Foundation.

    About the Author

  • Barbara Denman

    Barbara Denman is communications editor for the Florida Baptist Convention. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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