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Southeastern bids farewell to three long-time employees

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Three long-time Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary employees, Paul Fletcher, Ben. S. Johnson and Audrey Pleasants recently retired from life-long careers in the wake of the seminary’s 50th anniversary.

Serving under three seminary presidents for 20 years, Paul Fletcher retired from his post as vice president for administration at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.

Fletcher, also known as ‘Fletch’ to friends and associates, came to the seminary on April 1, 1980 as the assistant to the president for business affairs under Randall Lolley from a management position of a brokerage firm. He also worked with the CIA from 1961-1962. In 1987, Fletcher’s title was changed to its present name under the presidency of Lewis A. Drummond.

“For 20 years Paul Fletcher has been a self-effacing, sacrificial servant of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary,” said Southeastern President Paige Patterson. “His steady hand on the helm of the Southeastern vessel has safely steered her through some of the more troubled waters an institution ever faced.

“Working under three different administrations, Mr. Fletcher succeeded in maintaining an ultimate Christ-like attitude toward all,” Patterson said. “And in my persuasion, literally saved the institution during the time of its most profound trouble.”

In 1991, Fletcher foresaw Southeastern heading for unavoidable economic destruction and presented to the Board of Trustees a plan to claim financial exigency for the seminary. This financial strategy, requiring a reduction in budget, affected both personnel and programs. Eventually, the seminary was able to retain its financial integrity, a turning-point in the history of Southeastern Seminary.

However, Fletcher does not take the credit for diverting Southeastern from fiscal damage, but instead says he was “simply just doing what (he) was hired to do in seeing the seminary through a difficult time financially.”

Fletcher viewed his efforts to encourage students and their families as more important than anything else. During his time at Southeastern, Fletcher offered students financial assistance and provided an environment conducive to learning in the best possible conditions based on limited resources.

“I felt like my work there was one of the most significant things I could do, not being a minister in the Kingdom of God,” Fletcher said. “I will miss knowing that there are students all over the world who I helped in some small way get to where they are now to preach the Gospel.”

Fletcher plans to spend his retirement building a new career of raising Scotch-Highland cattle and selling them via the Internet. He will also stay busy by riding his motorcycle and reading in the fields of Christian apologetics, ethics, theology, and investment.

Fletcher serves as a trustee for the Keesee Foundation, a group located in Martinsville, Va., that gives financial support to seminary students from Va. and N.C., and as a member of the Board of Directors for Mt. Airy Granite. Fletcher has also committed to help the seminary with fund-raising, focusing primarily in Va., by visiting prospective seminary donors.

Fletcher and his wife, Tam, reside in Virginia.

In their Oct. 9-10 meeting, Southeastern’s Board of Trustees designated Oct. 10, 2000 as Mr. Garnet Paul Fletcher Appreciation Day and passed a resolution acknowledging his contributions to the seminary.

Trustees also passed a resolution for Ben. S. Johnson, who retired May 2000 as senior professor of church music and organist, a position he’s held since 1956, longer than any other faculty member. The resolution named Oct. 11, 2000, as Dr. Ben Sigel Johnson Appreciation Day.

“I have been paid for 44 years to do the thing I have enjoyed most,” Johnson said in response to Southeastern’s expression of thanks. “And that is to praise God (through music).”

Johnson received both Ed.D. and M.A. degrees from Columbia University, New York, N.Y. and an A.B. from the University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo. He has completed graduate work at Union Theological Seminary, School of Sacred Music and Juilliard School of Music, both in New York. A member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia and the National Association of Teachers of Singing, Johnson has also served as vice president of the National Conference of Southern Baptist Musicians and has worked with the American Choral Directors Association.

As minister of music for half a dozen churches prior to his coming to Southeastern, Johnson’s experience as organist, choirmaster and conductor has helped pave the way for the development and implementation of the seminary’s M.Div. in church music degree and other music programs. He has since served as minister of music at First Baptist Church, Rocky Mount, N.C., and at Wake Forest Baptist Church, Wake Forest, N.C.

In a 1990 interview with Word & Way staff, Johnson recounted his coming to Southeastern to meet with the first president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“One Sunday night Dr. S.L. Stealey called me out of the blue, and asked if I was interested in coming to Southeastern,” Johnson said, who was serving at the time as associate professor of music at William Carey in Hattiesburg, Miss. “We set up a time. I got on a train and came over without having any idea what the new school was about … .”

“That train ride was a step of faith which has led to a life time of service,” Word & Way reported.

Patterson also expressed his thanks to Johnson for his Christ-like attitude during a time of turmoil at Southeastern.

“When there was a major change in the direction of the school and the commitment of administrative leadership changed, there were the understandable lugubrious prognostications about the future on the part of many of the remaining professors in the institution,” Patterson said. “Ben never turned his back on established friendships. Not one critical word has escaped his mouth concerning his previous colleagues.”

“On the other hand,” Patterson added. “Ben accepted the ‘new guys on the block,’ loved them, prayed for them and made the transition as easy for them as he possibly could. I suspect Johnson has gone a long way toward proving that one can be genuinely Christian toward persons on all sides of issues.”

Johnson and his wife, Bonnie, will continue to reside in Wake Forest while Johnson continues to serve as an SEBTS adjunctive professor.

Audrey Kearney Pleasants also recently retired after 38 years of service in the Emery Denny Library of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, July 31, 2000. Pleasants holds the longest term of service of any library staff member, serving under five seminary presidents and four library directors.

Pleasants began working July 16, 1962 as an acquisitions supervisor and was promoted to technical services supervisor in 1995.

During her years at Southeastern, Pleasants bought and purchased about 95,000 books recommended by faculty members and library directors.

When asked why she remained so long, Pleasants said, “I saw it as a ministry as a way to serve (my Lord). I felt called here…I felt that (Southeastern) was where I belonged.”

Leaving with cherished memories of the friendships she made during her time at Southeastern, Pleasants vividly recalls the support and outpouring of love she received as her daughter struggled with melanoma and then passed away on Oct. 5, 1992. Pleasants said it was through this sad time in her life that she learned the value of friendship.

Beverly Whisnant, library co-worker and long-time friend, describes Pleasants as being “good at what she does” and having “diligence and endurance (that is) monumental.”

“Audrey has worked to provide materials vital to the theological education of thousands of students who are now in ministry all over the world,” Whisnant said. “Her focus (from the beginning) has been her family, this seminary and her church.”

Eugene McLeod, who retired in 1995 as the director of the library said, “My most pleasant memories include Audrey Pleasants. She was a team player and a leader always to be counted on.”

“I am grateful to God for the opportunities He has given me to serve (in this capacity),” Pleasants said of her experiences at Southeastern. “And for the rich rewards I have gained from the various people with whom I have come into contact.”

Pleasants and her husband, Earle, reside in Wake Forest. Pleasants is an active member of Wake Union Baptist Church where she participates in the Women’s Missionary Union.

Pleasants plans to spend her retirement traveling, playing golf and continuing with church activities and hobbies.

Resolution of Appreciation for Mr. Garnet Paul Fletcher

WHEREAS, Mr. Garnet Paul Fletcher has exhibited across the years a model for Christian families; and

WHEREAS, He has first served this Nation in strategic security positions; and

WHEREAS, He has served Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary through three different administrations and for the past twenty years; and

WHEREAS, He has proven to be a committed churchman; and

WHEREAS, On a human level he was the agent of God who essentially saved Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in its darkest day; now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED, That October 10, 2000, be proclaimed Garnet Paul Fletcher Appreciation Day; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That we express to God our thanksgiving for Tam and Paul Fletcher; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That we express to Paul Fletcher our heartfelt appreciation for him and acknowledge to him the debt of gratitude that we feel; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That we acknowledge Fletcher Village and the Fletcher Conference Room in Stephens-Mackie Hall as reminders to us all of Mr. Fletcher’s incredible contribution; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, That we pledge to Paul and Tam Fletcher our fervent prayers as they work in the ministry of retirement that God has given them.

Resolution of Appreciation for Dr. Ben Sigel Johnson

WHEREAS, Dr. Ben Sigel Johnson has given forty-four years of his life to vigorous instruction

in sacred music at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; and
WHEREAS, He has faithfully provided music not only by instruction but also for worship and inspiration; and

WHEREAS, He has always exhibited the kindness of Christ and the encouragement of all; now, therefore;

BE IT RESOLVED, That October 11, 2000, be designated as Dr. Ben Sigel Johnson Appreciation Day; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That on this day we give special thanks to God for His grace in providing the teaching ministry of Dr. Johnson to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That we acknowledge the naming and dedication of a faculty office in Stephens-Mackie Hall as a reminder to us all of Dr. Johnson’s incredible contribution; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That we express to Dr. Johnson the most profound appreciation of the Trustees, Faculty, Staff, and Students for forty-four years of incomparable service; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, That we wish for Dr. Johnson the smile of Heaven and the mercies of God in the years of his retirement ministries.

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  • Melissa King