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Politico-turned-minister Harry Dent dies


COLUMBIA, S.C. (BP)–Harry S. Dent, who worked under Presidents Nixon and Ford before launching a lay ministry at age 55, died Sept. 28 at age 77 after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Dent was a member of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee from 1996-2001 and was chairman of the 1987 Billy Graham crusade in Columbia, S.C., and vice chairman of the 1996 Graham crusade in Charlotte, N.C. He was a member of First Baptist Church in Columbia.

In 1985, Dent and his wife Betty launched “Laity: Alive and Serving” in their home, organizing numerous lay missions overseas trips, focusing heavily on the country of Romania in Eastern Europe after the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989.

Hundreds of laypeople became involved, as volunteers or as donors, in efforts “to help young pastors in training, good works and new churches,” as Dent once noted in a Christmas card to supporters. Additionally, a retreat center was built in Romania’s Transylvania region and city officials in Cluj named him as an honorary citizen.

The Dents also spoke in several hundred churches as part of their Laity: Alive and Serving ministry.

Southern Baptists’ MasterLife discipleship training played a part in the Dents’ calling. In the July-September 1986 edition of The Deacon magazine, Dent told of his “well-meaning, but generally ineffective service as a deacon and Sunday School teacher in Southern Baptist churches.”


Citing George Gallup Jr.’s observation of most churchgoers’ superficial understanding of the Bible and the Christian life, Dent continued, “This was certainly true of myself, even though I … helped found prayer breakfast groups in the United States Senate and in the Nixon White Hose.” Dent then noted, however, “Wherever pastors, deacons, and church members have been through MasterLife training, new life has developed. Better leadership and more vibrant and fruitful churches have resulted.”

In 1981, Dent left politics and closed his law office in Columbia to enroll at Columbia International University (Columbia Bible College at the time) where he earned a graduation certificate.

Before turning to missions, Dent was a “GOP master politician,” as the obituary headline in The State newspaper in Columbia described him. He was best known as the architect of Nixon’s “Southern strategy” in winning the presidency in 1968.

Dent’s first taste of politics was in 1950, working in an unsuccessful Senate campaign by Strom Thurmond. But after Thurmond won election in 1954, Dent was hired for the new senator’s staff in Washington and was promoted to chief of staff in 1956. Dent worked for Thurmond until 1966 when he became chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party and played a key role in Nixon carrying the the South in the 1968 presidential election.

Dent was hired by Nixon as special White House counsel, serving as a liaison with various political groups such as the Republican National Committee. Although never tainted by the Watergate scandal, The State recounted that Dent “pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for ‘aiding and abetting’ an illicit, secret 1970 campaign fund that steered nearly $3 million into Republican Senate and House races. He was placed on unsupervised program for a month by a federal district judge, who called Dent ‘an innocent victim of circumstances.'”

In 1972, Dent became general counsel of the Republican National Committee and later practiced law until entering the ministry.

In 1995, The State recounted, Dent was appointed by then-State Superintendent of Education Barbara Nielsen to establish character education as part of the curriculum in South Carolina’s public schools.

Dent was the author of five books: “Right vs. Wrong: Solution to the American Nightmare,” with his wife Betty; “Cover Up: The Watergate in All of Us”; “A Layman Looks Through the Bible for God’s Will”; “Teaching Jack and Jill right vs. wrong in the homes and schools: A primer on character education”; and “The Prodigal South Returns to Power.”

He was a veteran of the Korean War who lost two brothers in World War II.

In addition to his wife, Dent is survived by two sons, Harry Jr. and Jack; and two daughters, Dolly Montgomery and Ginny Brant, a trustee of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board from 1990-98; and nine grandchildren.

A memorial service was held Sunday, Sept. 30, in Columbia International University’s Shortess Chapel.
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press.