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SBC DIGEST: Jo Ann Leavell dies; Sullivan donates papers to Baptist college

EDITOR’S NOTE: In this SBC DIGEST: Jo Ann Leavell, wife of former NOBTS president, dies; Sullivan donates library to Baptist College of Florida.

Jo Ann Leavell, wife of former NOBTS president, dies

By Staff/New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

JACKSON, Miss. (BP) — Jo Ann Paris Leavell, wife of the late Landrum P. Leavell II, former president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, died March 6 in Jackson, Miss., following an extended illness. She was 83.

“Jo Ann Leavell was a perfect complement to her husband as a pastor’s wife and president’s wife, sharing his passion for evangelism, missions and ministry,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said.

“Gracious hostess, delightful conversationalist, skillful leader and gifted Bible teacher, she always had an eye for details and a love for people.

“We will miss her practical wisdom, her sense of humor, the unforgettable ways she expressed her thoughts and her homemade butter pecan ice cream,” Kelley continued. “If you met her once, you could not forget her.”

She married Landrum Leavell II in July 1953. A pastor at the time, he later served as NOBTS president from 1975-94. Their marriage spanned 55 years until her husband’s death in 2008. Both remained deeply involved in the life of New Orleans Seminary long after his retirement. Their son David, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Millington, Tenn., serves on the seminary’s board of trustees.

Landrum Leavell was an innovator at NOBTS, leading the seminary to record enrollment growth, increased fundraising efforts and the largest extension system among SBC schools.

Like her husband, Jo Ann Leavell was an innovator in her own right. Developing a burden for student wives, she launched an academic program to offer free training for ministry wives, the first of its kind at an SBC seminary, followed by a clothing ministry for students wives facing financial struggles. The programs she started remain a vital part of the NOBTS experience for student wives.

“Jo Ann Leavell’s special passion was the nurture of our student wives,” Kelley said. “This included creating the SBC’s first seminary courses designed specifically for student wives. [She] found a way to offer the courses at no cost for the wives, along with the provision of free childcare for preschoolers while mom was in class. All six seminaries now offer such courses.”

Kelley’s wife Rhonda, as a 23-year-old newlywed, was one of the first student wives to attend the classes. “I knew that my husband was called to the ministry when we married,” Rhonda Kelley said, “but I had no idea how to be a minister’s wife.

“What a blessing to learn from our president’s wife how to serve the Lord alongside my husband,” Rhonda Kelley said. “She had a dynamic personality and many spiritual gifts, but she taught us to be ourselves, who God created us to be. Mrs. Leavell became a treasured mentor, encouraging me in marriage and ministry.”

Leavell served as the president of the SBC minister’s wives organization in 1976, spoke at women’s retreats throughout the United States and led a weekly interdenominational Bible study in New Orleans for eight years. In 1990, she received the Mrs. J.M. Dawson Award for distinguished ministers’ wives, an annual award given by the SBC Ministers’ Wives Conference. Her book of encouragement for women, “Don’t Miss the Blessing,” was published in 1990. A second book, “Joy in the Journey,” followed in 1994.

Born in Atlanta on Sept. 1, 1931, she graduated from Ward Belmont Junior College in Nashville and Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in education.

Jo Ann Leavell is survived by her children, Landrum P. Leavell III of Denton, Texas; Ann Paris Leavell of Sardis, Ala.; Roland Q. Leavell II of Jackson, Miss.; and David E. Leavell of Millington, Tenn.; and 11 grandchildren.

Services will be held Wednesday, March 11, at 11 a.m. in the chapel at First Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., with David Leavell officiating. Visitation will be from 9:30-11 a.m. Interment will be at Oak Hill Cemetery in Newnan, Ga., on Friday, March 13, at 11 a.m.

The family has said memorial gifts may be made to New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Sullivan donates library to Baptist College of Florida

By Sandra Richards & Barbara Denman

GRACEVILLE, Fla. (BP) — A collection of at least 6,000 books was donated by John Sullivan to the Baptist College of Florida upon his retirement as executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention.

The gift represents a 60-year accumulation of printed pieces and written documents collected by Sullivan since his days as a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas.

The collection includes rare Bibles, numerous biblical commentaries, sermon series by various distinguished biblical expositors and volumes on the pastoral ministry and the Christian life.

Thomas A. Kinchen, president of the Baptist College of Florida, called the donation “the most significant literary gift collection I have seen in my 25 years at the college.”

“Few individuals collected a greater number of significant volumes that document Christian and specifically Baptist life than John Sullivan,” Kinchen said. “This will greatly enrich our holdings and I am

celebrating that current and future generations of students will benefit from this leader’s stewardship.”

Sullivan said he chose the college to be the repository of the collection because of my “loyalty to Florida Baptists. It seemed like the right thing to do.

“I pray students will use the books and papers for research to help them develop as pastors and committed church leaders, which will set the foundation for the next generation of Florida Baptists.”

After they are catalogued, the volumes will be housed in the Ida J McMillan Library located at the BCF main campus in Graceville and made available to faculty and students.

By his own admission Sullivan has always been a student at-heart, resulting in his acquisition of books related to theology and the practical application of the Christian Gospel. As was his practice, the retired state executive read at least a book a week and many contain handwritten notes.

During his years as pastor of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, La., and his service in Florida, Sullivan took the notes and compiled typewritten versions in notebooks. These notes later served as background information and illustrative materials for his prepared sermons.

Don Hepburn, director of the Florida convention’s public relations group, oversaw the removal and cataloguing of Sullivan’s personal papers, many of which were held in the convention’s official files. The collection was inventoried and will be given to the Baptist Historical Collection maintained by the Florida Baptist Historical Society, also located in Graceville on the college campus.

“The Sullivan book collection in many ways reflects the holdings of a typical Southern Baptist pastor,” said Hepburn, author of the history book “Favored Florida.” “However the collection goes beyond the typical collection a pastor would assemble during the decades after a post-seminary education.

“Because he was and still is an avid student and preacher, many of the books reflect the contemporaneous writings of pastors and theologians of every decade from the 1970s to 2010s. The practice of staying current on other writings probably contributed to Sullivan’s effectiveness as a preacher.”

Sullivan’s 26-year tenure at the Florida Convention is the longest in the history of Florida Baptist life and among the longest of any state executive in Southern Baptist history.

“The history he leaves here has helped to shape the work of the state convention,” Kinchen said, “and the legacy he has left in the donation of his library will shape the lives and ministries of countless students in the future.”

To learn more about the collection donated to BCF, call 850-263-3261, ext. 449.

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