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Robert E. Naylor, dead at 90, led Southwestern from 1958-78

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The man who was instrumental in making Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary one of the largest seminaries in the world has died.
Robert E. Naylor, 90, president of Southwestern from1958-78, died early in the morning Sunday, Feb. 21, in his Fort Worth, Texas, home.
Funeral services have been scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 24, at 2 p.m. at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth where Naylor served as pastor for five years prior to becoming president of Southwestern and where he continued as a member. His body will lie in state in the rotunda of Southwestern’s Memorial Building from 9 a.m. to noon.
In an interview in 1989, Naylor said serving the seminary had been more than just holding down a job, describing Southwestern as more than bricks and mortar.
“The seminary is a living thing,” he said. “It is not an institution.”
The presidency, he added, was “never a job to be done; it was a ministry to be lived.”
During Naylor’s presidency, Southwestern’s enrollment increased from 2,400 to 4,100 and the facilities were expanded significantly. Building projects begun or completed during Naylor’s tenure include housing units at the student village, the student center named for Naylor, the children’s center named for him and his wife, Goldia, the medical center (later the counseling center) and the fitness center. In addition, nearly every existing building was renovated and apartment complexes were acquired and renovated for student housing.
“He was a man who wanted to build for the future and not just for the present,” said James Leo Garrett, distinguished professor emeritus of theology. “He realized the importance of doing it right for the long haul.”
Naylor’s charge to incoming students at the first chapel of each semester became his signature statement. He would ask the new students to stand and then he would give them a charge ended by: “I officially declare you Southwesterners — and you’d be better dead than bring dishonor to that title.”
Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill said that statement was one that Naylor reflected in his life.
“He was the epitome of his own statement. He demonstrated what it meant to be a Southwesterner in his tenacious commitment to the Word of God, his passionate love of the local church and his vision to reach the world,” Hemphill said.
Naylor was born in Hartshorne, Okla., Jan. 24, 1909, the son of a preacher. He was attending East Central State Teachers College in Ada, Okla., when he was called to the ministry in 1928. He enrolled in Southwestern and began attending that August, graduating in 1932 with a master’s degree in theology. He was married to Goldia Dalton in 1930 and had three children.
One of the three children is Rebekah Naylor, a Southern Baptist representative in India under the International Mission Board since 1973, working as a surgeon at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital.
Robert Naylor served as pastor at churches in Ada; Nashville, Ark.; Malvern, Ark.; Arkadelphia, Ark.; Enid, Okla.; and Columbia, S.C. He was elected to Southwestern’s board of trustees in 1941 and was named president of the seminary in 1958 following the death of his predecessor, J. Howard Williams.
In 1965, he was named a distinguished alumnus of Southwestern. After his retirement, Naylor was named president emeritus.
His style of administration was noted for its clarity and straightforwardness. John Drakeford, distinguished professor emeritus of psychology and counseling, said Naylor was always very fair and “very much straight from the shoulder.”
“He was very, very forthright. He was very much on top of everything that was happening,” Drakeford said.
William Estep, distinguished professor emeritus of church history, agreed.
“You never needed to guess where Dr. Naylor stood,” Estep said. “He was in step with traditional evangelical conservatism of Southern Baptists. He was one of our better presidents.”
John Newport, distinguished professor emeritus of philosophy of religion, recalled Naylor as having deep convictions joined to a gracious spirit.
“Dr. Naylor is a unique person. He had a sense of manifest destiny, of God’s call,” said Newport, adding that Naylor was dedicated both to the seminary and to the Southern Baptist Convention.
Hemphill also noted Naylor’s love for the SBC was exemplified in Naylor’s efforts “to keep Southwestern anchored in the denomination.”
Since his retirement from Southwestern, Naylor had more than a thousand preaching appointments and travels that took him to 40 states, six continents and numerous countries, including India, Australia, all European countries except Russia, Canada, and Mexico.
Until last fall, Naylor continued to fill pulpits whenever needed.
“Small churches would love him and hear him and respond to him every bit as much as a large church,” Garrett said.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Naylor is survived by his two sons, Robert E. Naylor Jr. of West Chester, Pa., and Richard D. Naylor of Austin, Texas; his brother, William Naylor of Duncan, Okla.; his sister, Francene Mounts of Guthrie, Okla.; and three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Memorials can be made to the Rebekah Naylor Chair of Missions at the seminary or to the Bangalore Baptist Hospital in Bangalore, India, care of the International Mission Board in Richmond, Va.

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  • Cory J. Hailey