By Bill Jones
Executive Director, retired, Texas Baptists Committed
In only three days since Babs Baugh’s passing, I’ve already read at least a half-dozen articles paying tribute to her life, and I know there will be many more to come.
No one person can adequately tell the story of a life so very well-lived, a life that touched so many people. So we each tell our own stories of Babs. Here I hope to give just a little glimpse of my own friendship with Babs and what she meant to me personally and to my involvement in Baptist life and leadership.
I first got to knowing Babs Baugh as a colleague on the Texas Baptists Committed Board of Directors when I joined that group in January 2006.
But my first real opportunity to spend time in conversation with Babs and her husband, John Jarrett, was in February 2007, when my son, Travis, and I sat at their table at breakfast at the Mainstream Baptist Network Convocation. I was particularly pleased that Travis got to meet them, and for them to meet Travis.
The months that followed were difficult ones for both families. John Baugh, Babs’s dad, died in early March, shortly after he and Babs’s mom, Eula Mae, had moved to San Antonio to be near Babs and John. In June, my dad, Jase Jones, died (Mother had passed away 10 years earlier). Then in August, Babs’s mom suffered a stroke and died.
In the period surrounding those deaths, Babs and I exchanged several emails sharing our thoughts about the great Baptist legacy we both inherited from our parents.
John Baugh was a Baptist layperson – founder and owner of Sysco Foods – who had deep convictions grounded in historic Baptist principles and was instrumental in the fight to prevent Fundamentalists from seizing control of the Baptist General Convention of Texas in the 1990s. Babs’s parents gave generously to establish a foundation that would support progressive Baptist organizations and causes.
Jase Jones was a longtime Baptist minister who – after retiring from the SBC Home Mission Board’s Interfaith Witness Department, following 22 years as an area missionary director – spearheaded the forming of the T. B. Maston Foundation for Christian Ethics (furthering the legacy of his major professor at Southwestern Seminary), which he then chaired for more than a decade after its founding.
In 2011, following David Currie’s retirement as TBC executive director, the Board named me to succeed him – with a caveat: they weren’t quite ready to bestow the executive director title on this johnny-come-lately layperson (my friend David Currie left big footprints that no one was going to fill, so I understood their reluctance), so they named me associate executive director.
In January 2013, however, the Board dropped “associate” from the title, affirming my work of the first two years by naming me executive director. A few weeks later, TBC received a $25,000 check from the Eula Mae & John Baugh Foundation, accompanied by a letter, addressed to me:
We are so pleased to know that you are the executive director of Texas Baptists Committed. Congratulations . . . to the Board for making such a good choice!
It is my pleasure to enclose a check from the Baugh Foundation for $25,000 to be used in whatever way you see fit to help keep Texas Baptists free and faithful.
Thanks for all that you do –
That was only one of numerous notes of encouragement and affirmation I received from Babs over the years.
Babs was also very helpful to me in my efforts to increase the effectiveness of the TBC booth at the BGCT annual meeting. To attract people to our TBC booth at the 2011 meeting, I wanted to offer them a gift that reflected the principles behind Texas Baptists Committed. Having read umpteen number of books on the “Baptist battles,” I was – and am – convinced that John Baugh, in The Battle for Baptist Integrity, told that story the most comprehensively, while writing cogently about the principles at stake in those battles, with great clarity. It was the best book I had read on the subject.
I knew that Babs had thousands of copies warehoused and was always eager to get them into people’s hands. So I called her and asked if she would mind sending me some for us to give away to visitors at the TBC booth. Would she mind? She was only too excited to do so! Within a few days, about 200 copies of The Battle for Baptist Integrity arrived at my home, which I took with me to the BGCT meeting in Amarillo for our booth.
This became an annual ritual, with me calling Babs, and Babs asking, “How many do you need?” Over those years, I put copies of her father’s book in the hands of close to 1,000 people, while assuring them it was the best book they would ever read on the subject. And TBC benefited, as many of those folks took the time to stop and learn about TBC and to sign up for our mailing list.
Speaking of books, I was surprised one day to find in my mail a copy of From Waco to Wall Street: The Story of John Baugh, “The Sysco Kid,” accompanied by a note:
Hey Bill – Here is a copy of that book that Tom Kennedy wrote about my dad. It is not a literary marvel – but hope you enjoy it.
And I have enjoyed it – it may not be Dickens, but it is a remarkable story of great expectations exceeded and a life lived with conviction and generosity. Babs was very proud of her parents – and her own life and ministry kept their legacy alive and growing.
There is another story I need to share that shows not just the grace and generosity of Babs Baugh, but how closely attuned her heart was to the voice and call of God.
By the fall of 2016, the Board and I knew that TBC was living on borrowed time financially. We believed, however, that we had enough funds on hand to take us into 2017 and let us determine an “exit” on our own terms. Then came the word, one day in October, that we barely had enough funds on hand to pay my next paycheck. I was able to buy us a little time – but not much – by cashing in the $11,000 (and change) that was in our endowment fund with the Baptist Foundation of Texas (the seed money of $10,000 had been provided by Bob Stephenson, longtime TBC Board member and generous benefactor, a few years earlier). But the handwriting was still on the wall – we needed more money to enable us to make it into 2017 and give the Board and me the opportunity to bring TBC to an end on our own terms rather than an abrupt forced closure.
So I decided I would call Babs, who had been generous – both personally and through her Baugh Foundation – to TBC through the years (remember that 2013 check for $25,000?). I planned to ask her for $25,000 from the Baugh Foundation to give us the time and resources needed for the Board to make a decision for a graceful transition to closure.
But first I gave it a few days, during which time I prayed that God would somehow make such a call unnecessary; I wanted tangible affirmation of God’s support and guidance for our deliberations. So I was praying that God would provide the needed funds before I called Babs.
A week or so went by, and no such “sign” appeared. So I went ahead and tried to call Babs on a Friday afternoon, but she didn’t answer. I decided I would continue praying over the weekend and plan to call her on Monday. On Monday morning, I drove to Dallas Baptist University for its annual T. B. Maston Lectures on Christian Ethics, co-sponsored by the T. B. Maston Foundation, on whose trustee board I serve, and the luncheon following the lecture. I planned to call Babs as soon as I got back home that afternoon.
However, on my way home from DBU that afternoon, my cell phone rang. It was Jill Faragher, our part-time financial manager, whose “day job” was financial manager for South Main Baptist Church in Houston. There was excitement in Jill’s voice. “Guess what! TBC just got a check for $25,000 from the Baugh Foundation!”
Yes, I then called Babs – but to thank her rather than make a request of her, AND to tell her that her check to TBC was God’s affirming answer to my prayer – God’s response given through Babs Baugh, who was, faithfully as always, attentive to God’s voice and obedient to God’s call.
That was in October 2016. A few months later, in early 2017, at my recommendation, the Board voted to cease TBC’s operations, effective August 1, and to donate our remaining funds – and our database of supporters – to CBF’s new Fellowship Southwest regional ministry, headed by Marv Knox, a decison which Babs fully supported.
In August 2018, my home church – Wilshire Baptist in Dallas – and the (former) TBC Board gave me a retirement dinner. A few days before the dinner, Babs emailed my pastor, George Mason, and me, saying that she was distraught that, because of health concerns, she would be unable to travel to Dallas for the dinner. So George – who was in San Antonio visiting his grandchildren (and, incidentally, his daughter and son-in-law, Cameron and Garrett, too, don’t you know), and being a man of both grace and creativity – visited Babs and used his iPhone to record a video of Babs paying tribute to me, which he then played at my retirement dinner. Babs Baugh paying tribute to me – I have never felt so unworthy (though, I must admit, I felt pretty unworthy of the whole proceedings that evening)! That was a wonderful surprise that evening, when George played that video.
After hearing Babs’s message to me, I now go to sleep at night by “counting initials” – TBC, SBC, CBF, BJC, and so forth, though I’m not sure about “herding cattle” and “running with the big bulls.” (If none of this makes any sense to you, please click the link in the preceding paragraph and watch the video. It’s short and well worth your time.) As George noted, Babs explained to him off-camera that those activities were more reminiscent of David Currie and John Baugh than Bill Jones. But as TBC’s executive director the last 6½ years, I had been heir to their legacy.
A few months later, I saw Babs in Waco, at the premiere of the video produced by Ethics Daily & Baptist Women in Ministry, celebrating the ministry of Mary Alice Birdwhistell. There I took the opportunity to thank Babs for her wonderful and thoughtful video message.
What I will personally miss the most about Babs is our phone calls, discussing Baptist principles and the importance of defending them against those – both inside and outside the Baptist community – who continually assault and distort those principles. I was always impressed by Babs’s passion in talking about those Baptist distinctives and her tenacity in defending them, and I came away humbled from every conversation with her, because I am convinced – beyond any doubt – that she was the most deeply and thoroughly Baptist person (and I’ve known a lot of outstanding and influential Baptists) I have ever known.
But beyond that, she was a person who reflected God’s grace and love for all people. Joanna joins me in expressing our deepest sympathies to her family. We loved her dearly, and we love her family.
Today I am a much better Baptist, more effective Baptist leader, and especially a better Christ-follower for having known Babs Baugh as a friend, a mentor, and an example. And I know that thousands upon thousands of people can join me in that claim.
Through the Eula Mae and John Baugh Foundation, Babs will continue to inspire, inform, and move generations to come. Her daughter, Jackie Baugh Moore, as president of the Foundation, is superbly seeing to that.
Thanks be to God for Babs Baugh, a good and faithful servant.