FALLS CHURCH, Va. (BP)–Richard M. Stephenson, former executive director of the Baptist General Association of Virginia for nearly 20 years, died April 17 in Falls Church, Va., following an extended struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 75.
Stephenson, executive director from 1968 until he retired in 1987, served in that position longer than any other person in the BGAV’s 174 years of existence. He was a widely known Virginia Baptist leader, serving for 17 years as pastor of one of the state’s largest churches and holding key offices in both the BGAV and Southern Baptist Convention.
Stephenson gained recognition as pastor of the flagship Columbia Baptist Church, Falls Church, Va., where he served 17 years. During his pastorate from 1950-68, the congregation in Washington’s burgeoning suburbs grew in membership from 700 to 2,600, expanded its staff and completed several major building programs as it became a strong focal point for many young families in the area.
During those years he was extensively involved in Virginia Baptist life, serving as BGAV president in 1964 and a member of the Virginia Baptist General Board (now the Virginia Baptist Mission Board) for 10 years, as well as a trustee of the Virginia Baptist Foundation and president of the Virginia Baptist Pastors Conference.
At the national Baptist level, he served as a trustee of the Southern Baptist Foundation and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., where he was chairman of the board for two years. In 1980 he was elected president of the Association of Southern Baptist State Executive Directors.
Born in Southampton County, Va., Stephenson was raised in Millfield Baptist Church in Ivor, Va., the congregation which ordained him in 1944.
He earned the bachelor of arts degree from Hampden-Sydney College in Hampden-Sydney, Va., and the master of theology degree from Southern Seminary in 1946. In 1966, the University of Richmond (Va.) conferred on him the honorary doctor of divinity degree.
From 1946-50, Stephenson served as pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Myers, Fla., where he met and married Noralee Mellor.
Stephenson is survived by his wife and three children: Vivian S. Clingenpeel, a Richmond attorney who is married to Michael J. Clingenpeel, editor of the Religious Herald, the Virginia Baptist weekly newsjournal; R. Lee Stephenson, also a Richmond attorney; and Richard M. Stephenson Jr., of Fairfax, a U.S. Foreign Service officer. He also is survived by three grandchildren.
A funeral service is scheduled at Columbia Baptist Church April 18 at 1 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the “Make a Difference” building campaign of Columbia Baptist Church or to the “Adopt an Annuitant” program through the treasurer’s office at the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, P.O. Box 8568, Richmond, VA 23235.