Duke K. McCall: 1951-1982

Duke K. McCall

Duke K. McCall

Duke K. McCall, Southern’s seventh president, was born in Meridian, Mississippi in 1914. McCall grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of a judge. Following high school, McCall entered Furman University, where he graduated as valedictorian in 1935. At Furman, McCall met Marguerite Mullinix and dated her throughout college. The couple married shortly after college and raised four boys–Duke Jr., Douglas, John Richard, and Michael–over the course of their marriage.

Desiring ministerial training, McCall undertook postgraduate studies at Southern Seminary, earning the Th.M. degree in 1938 while serving as a fellow to president John R. Sampey in Old Testament. McCall then pursued a doctoral degree at Southern, graduating with a Ph.D. with the class of 1942. During this busy time, McCall also served as pastor of a local church, earning ten dollars per Sunday in his pastorate at Woodville, Tennessee.

McCall’s schooling and pastoral experience fitted him well for his first full-time pastorate, that of Broadway Baptist Church in Louisville. Following several years at the church, McCall was asked to become president of the Baptist Bible Institute of New Orleans. He led the school’s transformation into the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He then became the Executive Secretary of the SBC’s Executive Committee. McCall’s work in this high-profile denominational post commended him to the trustees of Southern in their search for a president following Ellis Fuller’s sudden death in 1950.

Elected by the trustees on August 1, 1951, McCall began his official duties on September 15, a presidency that would surpass the length of E. Y. Mullins’ then-record twenty-nine-year tenure in that office. McCall’s thirty-year tenure at Southern spanned across four decades during which he led Southern to unreached heights in enrollment and endowment. McCall navigated the seminary safely through numerous challenges: a 1958 controversy with half the School of Theology professors, the civil rights movement, and the beginnings of the conservative resurgence in the late 1970s. In the midst of such events, McCall found time to write a number of books, including What is the Church?, God’s Hurry, and A Story of Stewardship. McCall was elected to the presidency of the Baptist World Alliance in 1980. At the 1981 Southern Baptist Convention, McCall announced his intention to retire from the seminary’s presidency by the end of that year to dedicate his attention to duties associated with the Baptist World Alliance, however, he remained in office until the trustees appointed Roy L. Honeycutt as his successor on February 2, 1982. After his retirement from Southern, he also participated in the fight for the SBC that raged in the 1980s, narrowly lost the denomination’s 1982 presidential election.

Following his retirement from a lifetime of convention work, McCall resided for many years in Delray Beach, Florida. He married Winona McCandless after Marguerite died in 1983.  In June of 2009, Dr. McCall returned to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and spoke briefly to the seminary community on the occasion of Southern naming the Duke K. McCall Sesquicentennial Pavilion in his honor to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the institution he once led. In 2011–the 60th anniversary of McCall’s election to Southern’s presidency–the seminary launched the annual Duke K. McCall Lectures on Christian Leadership endowed by his family in his honor.

On April 2, 2013, Duke McCall–at the age of ninety-eight–passed from this world in the presence of his beloved wife and family at his Palm Beach Gardens home in Florida.  Broadway Baptist Church of Louisville hosted his funeral service on April 8; on the previous day, McCall’s body lay in state under the seminary pavilion which bears his name.

Sources: Duke McCall, Duke McCall: An Oral History, Brentwood, TN: Baptist History and Heritage, and Nashville: Fields Publishing, 2001; Gregory A. Wills and Aaron Cline Hanbury, “In Loving Memory and Celebration of Duke K. McCall, April 8, 2013,” Louisville: The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2013.

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