Bob Terry, the longtime editor of The Alabama Baptist, is known for his journalistic excellence, his personal integrity in the midst of church controversies and his unflagging calls for the Christian mission to build God’s kingdom.
But when he retires at the end of this year, Terry’s most lasting legacy in the hearts of Alabama Baptists is likely to be the vulnerable honesty with which he shared his grief after the sudden death of his first wife in 1998.
Terry and his wife, Eleanor Foster Terry, then a professor and dean at the Methodist-affiliated Birmingham-Southern College, had been at a meeting of the Baptist World Alliance in South Africa when a car struck their taxi, knocking them from the vehicle.
Both were injured. Eleanor slipped into a coma before being airlifted back to Birmingham, where she died on July 20, 1998.
For the first three years after Eleanor’s death, Terry would visit her grave on the anniversary of her passing. Every year it rained.
More than once, Terry recalled later in a column, “I sat there praying that God would strike me with a lightning bolt.”
“The loneliness was almost unbearable,” he wrote.
Terry shared the anger, confusion and devastation that comes with such a loss with his readers, said Gary Fenton, a longtime friend, pastor of Terry’s home church and board member of The Alabama Baptist.
“Here he is, an ordained minister and editor of the Baptist paper — people thought he was going to come through with these marvelous clichés to make it all go away,” said Fenton. “Those were probably his best-received editorials. You saw his pain. He avoided the easy answers.”
Terry never intended a career in denominational journalism. Instead, he wanted to be a pastor.
But he didn’t know much about his denomination. So he took a temporary break from doctoral studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to work with the Kentucky Baptist Convention’s newspaper, the Western Recorder.
“By then, I’d been in seminary, but I still felt like an outsider looking in,” Terry told Religion News Service during an interview at his book-lined office in Birmingham. “I thought taking the position would give me the opportunity to learn the inside workings of my denomination and to visit a lot of churches.”
That temporary break turned into 50 years of church journalism.
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Source: Religion News Service