WICHITA FALLS, Texas (BP)–Landrum P. Leavell II, president emeritus of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, died Sept. 26 in Wichita Falls, Texas. He was 81.
Born in Ripley, Tenn., Nov. 26, 1926, Leavell was raised in Newnan, Ga., where his father, Leonard O. Leavell, was pastor of the First Baptist Church. On July 28, 1953 he married JoAnn Paris of New Orleans, a graduate of Sophie Newcomb College. He went on to become the president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, his alma mater, and one of the most influential Southern Baptist leaders of his generation.
Leavell was ordained to the gospel ministry in 1948 and began pastoring a church in Mississippi during his time as a student at New Orleans Seminary.
Leavell earned a B.A. in English from Mercer University and a B.D. degree and a Th.D. in New Testament and Greek from NOBTS.
During his 27 years as a pastor, Leavell served at Union Baptist Church in Magnolia, Miss. (1948-51); Crosby Baptist Church in Crosby, Miss. (1951-53); First Baptist Church in Charleston, Miss. (1953-56); First Baptist Church in Gulfport, Miss. (1956-63); and First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls, Texas, (1963-75).
Leavell served in many capacities in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board. He was first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1968 and president of the SBC Pastor’s Conference in 1971. Leavell served as president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas from 1971-73. Since his retirement Leavell served on the board of trustees at Mississippi College.
Leavell shared a lifelong love of for quail hunting. He was a dedicated father who traveled untold miles following his sons’ football and basketball careers. His oldest son said, “He was a tough fighter to the end; he just didn’t have much left to fight with. There are a lot of tracks in the sand behind him. I would hope my rearview mirror was so crowded.”
In addition to his denominational roles, Leavell was an active community leader serving with a number of civic groups including the Mayor’s Bi-Racial Committee in Gulfport; the boards of the United Fund and of Child Welfare of Wichita Falls; and the Rotary Club of New Orleans. He also was longtime trustee of Baptist Hospital in New Orleans. Upon the sale of Baptist Hospital, he became a founding trustee of Baptist Community Ministries, a foundation developed to administer the assets generated from the sale. Reflecting its Baptist heritage, the foundation from its inception has invested its resources in meeting the health and educational needs of the citizens of the New Orleans area.
Upon the occasion of his retirement from the seminary, Baptist Community Ministries created an endowed faculty chair in psychology and counseling in Leavell’s honor. Friends also created an endowed faculty chair in New Testament and Greek that bears his name. The city of New Orleans designated a portion of the campus as Leavell Lane in honor of the many contributions made by him and his uncle, Roland Q. Leavell, who served as NOBTS president from 1946-58. Seminary trustees named the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth in Landrum Leavell’s honor as well.
Among Leavell’s key honors include the George Washington Honor Medal Award from the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, Pa.; the Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Foundation; and the J.D. Grey Preaching Award from the Louisiana Moral and Civic Foundation.
Leavell was elected as president of New Orleans Seminary in January 1975, serving in that role until his retirement Dec. 31, 1994. Leavell served as interim president until Dec. 31, 1995.
“By any standard of measurement, Dr. Leavell is one of the greatest presidents that this seminary ever had,” current NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. On the seminary’s www.nobts.edu website, Kelley noted: “Greatness is the ability to fulfill your calling effectively and efficiently, whatever the circumstances, while nurturing and building up the people around you in the process. This is the essence of the life and ministry of Dr. Landrum P. Leavell II. If I may adapt one of his favorite expressions, as a leader Dr. Leavell was better than many, equal to any, and second to none.”
Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said Leavell “finished his extraordinary ministry as a seminary president, but at heart he was a devoted pastor. He was one of my predecessors as pastor of First Baptist Church, Wichita Falls, and was greatly loved by so many of her members. There is no doubt that he left a lasting footprint upon the church’s far-reaching ministries. Dr. Leavell preached Jesus and always issued a heartfelt appeal for the unsaved to come to Jesus. He has left a wonderful legacy of life and ministry as an example for family, friends and fellow Southern Baptists. My wife, Jodi, and I are praying for JoAnn and the entire family the all-encompassing sufficiency of God’s grace in these days.”
During Leavell’s NOBTS presidency, the seminary experienced record growth, outstanding success in fundraising and a significant expansion of its campus. The campus became known by all who visited as one of the most beautiful spots in New Orleans.
Leavell believed that the care and preparation of a minister’s family was as important as the preparation of the minister. He enhanced the campus recreation facilities and, with his wife, gave great attention to the needs of student wives.
The Leavells launched many initiatives to assist student wives, including free educational programs, an endowment to buy clothes for student wives and the Leavell Lecture Series. The lecture series was established by the Leavell family to honor Mrs. Leonard O. Leavell, Leavell’s mother. The series honors Mrs. Leavell’s work as a minister’s wife and is designed to encourage student wives who will one day serve in that role. Leavell often arranged for free child care for campus events to enable wives to participate in seminary life.
During his 20-year tenure, the seminary became an innovator in theological education while continuing to emphasize evangelism, missions and local church ministry.
Under Leavell’s leadership, New Orleans Seminary established a network of extension centers throughout the Southeast. Leavell also invested in educational technology. He introduced compressed interactive video (CIV), which connects classrooms in different cities for real-time audio and video interaction. His innovations helped the seminary offer world-class theological education to even more God-called men and women.
NOBTS also established the first center for evangelism and church growth in the Southern Baptist Convention, connecting the resources and expertise of the seminary with needs of local churches throughout the SBC.
Leavell was the driving force behind the re-establishment of the seminary’s undergraduate program. During the presidency of his uncle Roland Leavell, the School of Christian Training was begun in 1954. However, it closed a few years later. Landrum Leavell envisioned an accredited college that would offer ministry training to adult students without college degrees. He restarted the school in 1976 with only 30 students. Now more than 1,000 men and women study at the undergraduate college. Four of the other five SBC seminaries now have similar programs. In 2003, the school was renamed Leavell College in honor of the seminary’s two Leavell presidents.
A gifted writer, Leavell authored or contributed to 14 books, including “Angels, Angels, Angels” and “Twelve Who Followed Jesus.”
In addition to his wife of 55 years, survivors include his sister Margaret Leavell Mann of Newnan, Ga., son Landrum P. Leavell III and Susanne of Denton, Texas, daughter Ann Leavell Beauchamp of Greensboro, Ga., son Roland Q. Leavell II and Lisa of Jackson, Miss., son David E. Leavell and Vicki of Springfield, Tenn., and 10 grandchildren.
The funeral will be at First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 30, with visitation to follow in the church’s parlor. Interment will be at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 3, at Oak Hill Cemetery in Newnan, Ga. A memorial service will be held in New Orleans Seminary’s Roland Q. Leavell Chapel Tuesday, Oct. 7, at 11 a.m.
Memorial gifts may be made to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and First Baptist Church, Wichita Falls, Texas.
Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.