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Thomas DeLaughter dies at 85; left legacy as innovative educator

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Thomas J. DeLaughter, 85, a Southern Baptist Old Testament and Hebrew scholar, died June 16 at his home in Picayune, Miss.
A specialist in Hebrew grammar, DeLaughter taught at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary from 1956-78. Upon retirement he was named professor emeritus of Old Testament and Hebrew.
“With the heart of a pastor and the mind of a scholar, Dr. Thomas J. DeLaughter invested his life faithfully in preparing generations of students to teach and preach the Word of God. We shall miss him,” said Chuck Kelley, NOBTS president.
DeLaughter came to the seminary in 1956 at the invitation of Roland Q. Leavell, NOBTS president from 1946-58, as the first director of the seminary’s newly created School of Christian Training.
Before he joined the seminary faculty, DeLaughter was pastor of First Baptist Church, Pascagoula, Miss.; director of the missions department of the Louisiana Baptist Convention; pastor of First Baptist Church, Bunkie, La.; and pastor of Coliseum Place Baptist Church, New Orleans. He also was a trustee for the seminary.
DeLaughter’s leadership in the original School of Christian Training laid the groundwork for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s current College of Undergraduate Studies, renamed by seminary trustees in 1997.
As DeLaughter led in the formation of the School of Christian Training, the bachelor of theology degree and diplomas in sacred music, religious education and theology originally were offered. Now, 42 years later, the NOBTS College of Undergraduate Studies offers the bachelor of arts and bachelor of general studies degrees and associate degrees in music, pastoral ministries and Christian education, as well as multi-language diploma programs and several certificate programs, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s first specialization in women’s ministry.
In addition, the original main campus School of Christian Training has been expanded to include 12 undergraduate extension center campuses, with one located at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, which graduated its first class of students in January 1998, the first group of prisoners to complete degrees from any accredited theological institution.
Furthermore, the undergraduate program now offers courses in four locations by compressed interactive video, live from the main campus to extension center campuses in Decatur, Ga.; Orlando, Miami, and Graceville, Fla., and has been chosen by the Association of Theological Schools to participate in a pilot program to develop accredited theological courses for the Internet.
“From the very beginning of our School of Christian Training, thanks to the early innovative leadership and foresight of Dr. DeLaughter, New Orleans Seminary has tried to offer sound theological education that was accessible and affordable, in an effort to train God-called men and women through every possible means,” said Jimmy Dukes, current dean of the undergraduate faculty at New Orleans Seminary and a former student under DeLaughter.
“Dr. DeLaughter was keenly aware that one-third of all Southern Baptist preachers lack a college education,” Dukes said. “He wanted to be a part of preparing them to be the best ministers they could be.”
Among his other accomplishments at the seminary, Delaughter initiated in 1962 an annual pastor’s conference at New Orleans Seminary; was instrumental in the establishment of New Orleans Seminary’s first faculty journal, The Theological Educator, first published in 1967 for the seminary’s golden anniversary year, then biannually thereafter; and was chairman of the committee for the inauguration of the seminary’s seventh president, Landrum P. Leavell II, in 1975.
“He was not only a faculty member serving with me, but he was also a longtime, personal friend,” said Leavell, now president emeritus of New Orleans Seminary, from his home in Wichita Falls, Texas.
“The things that stand out in my mind about Dr. DeLaughter are that he excelled as a pastor/preacher, as a seminary professor and as a committed Southern Baptist.
“He had a rare sense of humor and was able to tell Cajun jokes and regale the faculty, students and audiences wherever he went.
“I will always appreciate the influence that he had upon me as I was a seminary student and as he was pastor of Coliseum Place Baptist Church and frequently preached at chapel time.
“I feel that I have really lost a good friend,” Leavell said.
DeLaughter, originally from Franklinton, La., completed the bachelor of arts degree at Louisiana College and both the master of theology and doctor of theology degrees at New Orleans Seminary. During his sabbaticals he studied at Oxford University, Princeton Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary in Virginia.
DeLaughter is survived by his wife, Lurlean; a son, Thomas; and a daughter, Beth. A funeral service was held June 18 at First Baptist Church, Picayune, Miss.

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  • Debbie Moore