Year in review: Georgia Baptist leaders who died in 2023


The Georgia Baptist community lost many church leaders during 2023, including Charles Stanley and Michael Catt, the pastors who developed worldwide outreaches through Christian broadcasting and filmmaking.

Stanley, the longtime face of In Touch Ministries and retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta, died April 18. He was 90. Known to audiences around the world through his wide-reaching TV and radio broadcasts, Stanley was called to ministry at 14. He received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Richmond in Virginia, a Bachelor of Divinity at Southwestern Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a Master of Theology and Doctor of Theology from Luther Rice Seminary in Atlanta. At the time of his death, Stanley’s messages were heard in more than 127 languages around the world.

Catt, who showed Hollywood that wholesome family films can still be huge box office successes, died June 12. The executive producer of the Christian movies Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof and Courageous was the retired pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany. Catt served at Sherwood from 1989 to 2021. The church developed into a regional, multi-generational and multi-ethnic congregation made up of people from more than 20 nations. Along with his local church ministry, Catt authored several books, including the best-selling Fireproof Your Life. But he is perhaps best known for Sherwood Pictures, which promoted the gospel to millions via the big screen.

Georgia Baptists also said goodbye to:

Clifford Clyde Evans, Jr., longtime pastor and former Georgia state missionary, died Nov. 25. He was 76. A native of Cordele, served in the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam, after which he graduated from William Carey College. He received a Master of Divinity degree from Luther Rice College and Seminary. He served as pastor at Salem Baptist Church in Sylvester, Houston Heights Baptist Church in Macon, and Southside Baptist Church in Cochran. He also served as the director of missions for Dodge, Pulaski, Bleckley County Baptist Association and as a ministry resource consultant for the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Cecil Gray Clegg II, who served a half century as pastor of churches in Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana, died Oct. 31. He was 80. He was a graduate of Mississippi College where he was a member of the track team, and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He was ordained in 1969 in Macon. His most recent pastorates were at Central Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., and Heritage Baptist Church in Douglasville, Ga., followed by 10 years serving churches as a transitional pastor.

William Lionel Owens, retired Baptist pastor who served churches in five states including his native Georgia, died Oct. 31. Owens was a graduate of Southern Technical Institute and received a Doctor of Theology from Luther Rice College and Seminary.  He led in founding Carolina College of Biblical Studies in Fayetteville, N.C. and authored five books.

Freddie Allen Rhodes, longtime Georgia pastor, civil servant and U.S. Navy veteran, died Oct. 19. He served as pastor of Westview Baptist Church for 24 years. Before that, he worked at Robins Air Force Base. In all his roles, friends said he was a mentor, father figure and confidant.

Margaret Elizabeth Hooks Underwood, wife of the late Georgia pastor Mack Underwood, died Oct. 10. She was 105. She was born in Gibson, Ga., and was an active member of the churches her husband served. She also worked as secretary for her husband when he served as an associational missionary.

Jim Faircloth, a longtime Georgia pastor and Army veteran, died Oct. 6. He was 78. Faircloth served churches in Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Indiana, and New York.  A member of the Eastman First Baptist Church, he was a graduate of Middle Georgia College, Georgia Southern and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Chad Owen Brand, professor, pastor, and author died Oct. 1 in Monterey, Tennessee. He was 69. Brand was a professor of Christian studies at North Greenville College, a professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and held the title of associate dean at Boyce College in Louisville.

Mary Ellison, a missionary to Indonesia for 32 years, died Sept. 24. She was 87. Ellison was the wife of Ken Ellison, founding pastor of Eastside Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga. She was a graduate of Pompano Beach High School in Florida and held degrees from Carson-Newman University and New Orleans Baptist Seminary. She was a beloved Bible teacher, counselor, and role model for other pastors’ wives.

Jerry Clinton Little of Ringgold, Ga., retired missions strategist in the Catoosa Baptist Association, died Aug. 8. He was 71. A native of Tallapoosa, Ga., Little was a graduate of Berry College and had a Master of Divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. After planting and pastoring churches in Wisconsin, upstate New York, and Carrollton, Ga.,  served the Catoosa association until his retirement in 2020.

David Bunch, who helped Southern Baptists launch the Georgia-based Mission Service Corps in the 1970s, died July 24. Bunch became the first national director of the North American Mission Board’s Mission Service Corps. He also served as the executive director of the Colorado Baptist General Convention and the Baptist Convention of New England.

Jeff Daniels, a longtime Georgia pastor, died July 11. He was 54. Daniels, a native of Oglethorpe, Ga., dedicated 32 years of his life to pastoral work. He served  three churches, including White Oak Baptist Church in Trenton. He held a doctorate in pastoral ministry from Covington Theological Seminary.

Edward Reid Lycett, an Atlanta native who had a long ministerial career, died May 10. He was 72. He was a graduate of Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest N.C. He served on staff at several Georgia Baptist churches, including First Baptist Church of Swainsboro, First Baptist Church in Brunswick, First Baptist in LaGrange, Clairmont Hills in Decatur, Shirley Hills in Warner Robins, First Baptist Church in Douglas and Sand Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Douglas. He also served in the Sunday School Department at the Georgia Baptist Convention.

Jack Terrell Ruis, former pastor, associational mission strategist and ministry resource consultant for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, died May 6. Called to gospel ministry at the age of 16, Ruis received degrees from Mercer University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Southeastern Baptist Theological seminary, where he earned his doctorate. He served several Georgia churches before joining the staff of the Georgia Baptist Convention as an area missionary in middle and south Georgia from 1988 to 1999, then as a missions resource consultant from 1999 to 2006. He also served as missions strategist in the Colquitt County Baptist Association from 2006 to 2014.

Steve Bingham, who served 40 years as a pastor in Georgia, died April 17. He was 72. The Watkinsville native was remembered by people he shepherded as “a minister who genuinely cared for them.” He was also the camp pastor at Camp Kaleo in Forsyth for 34 years. Kaleo director Luke Foster said Bingham was a blessing to campers. “A lot of kids came to know Jesus and answered calls to ministry because of Steve’s faithfulness,” Foster said.

Kelsie M. Brady, a Georgia pastor, self-employed farmer and Navy veteran, died April 20. He was 78. Brady was serving as pastor of Oklahoma Baptist Church at the time of his death. He was also a former pastor of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, Seville Baptist Church, Lebanon Baptist Church, Blue Springs Baptist Church, and Pineview Baptist Church. He was a former interim pastor at Union Baptist Church. The Cordele native served three tours in Vietnam.

Martha Eunice Gillespie Lowe, a pastor’s wife and registered nurse, died March 30. She was 94.  Born a preacher’s kid in Shawnee Oklahoma, Lowe earned degrees from Furman University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a registered nursing degree Georgia Baptist Hospital. She married Lewis C. Lowe, and, during their 49-year marriage, served alongside him in Southern Baptist churches, including the first Southern Baptist Church in Chicago and the first Southern Baptist Church on Staten Island in New York.

William F. "Billy" Duggan, a longtime pastor who served churches in Georgia, Kentucky and Alabama, died March 15. He was 69. A resident of Wrens, Ga, Duggan was a graduate of Eastern Kentucky University,  Seminary School at Baptist College of Florida, and received a Doctor of Divinity from Andersonville Baptist Seminary.  He served as pastor at Shady Grove Baptist Church in Leesburg, Al., Evergreen Baptist Church in Blakley County, Ga., and Williams Memorial Baptist Church in Kentucky.  He later returned to Georgia and served as coach and teacher at One Way Christian School, Briarwood Academy, Augusta Christian, Hillcrest Baptist School, and John Hancock School. He finished his ministry as pastor of Mineral Springs Baptist Church in Washington County.

Dorothy Pryor, a longtime executive director of the Georgia Woman’s Missionary Union, died March 12. She was 98. An Alabama native, Pryor served with that state’s WMU before joining Georgia WMU where she rose to the position of executive director in 1963. She led the organization until her retirement in 1991. During her career, she traveled to 40 countries in South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, as well as throughout the U.S.

Sylvia Carol Kelley Waters, a member of the Hoboken Baptist Church choir and a beloved preschool teacher at her church, died Feb. 5. She was 78. Waters was a caseworker for the Georgia Division of Family and Children’s Services in Brantley County DFACS and for Satilla Community Services. She was a lifetime member of Hoboken Baptist Church.

Evelyn Farrington Perry of Gainesville, a former international missionary, died Feb. 3. She was 63. After graduating from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, she spent two years as a journeyman missionary in Hong Kong for the International Mission Board. She later spent 18 years directing and teaching in the English as a Second Language program and in the citizenship ministry at First Baptist Church Gainesville. She also served as treasurer of the Women's Ministry at the Gainesville church and as president of the English as a Second Language program for Georgia Baptist Women.

Bernard Weaver, longtime Georgia pastor and a Korean War era U.S. Army veteran, died Jan. 30. He was 94. Born at Wallins Creek in Kentucky, he was ordained to the by the Mount Harmony Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1954. He received a bachelor’s degree from Carson Newman College and a Master of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. While at Carson Newman, Weaver served on the staff of Mount Harmony Baptist Church in Knoxville; and during his seminary training at New Orleans, he was the associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Kenner, La. He then served as pastor of Mandeville Baptist Church, Mandeville, La.; Roseland Baptist Church, Roseland, La., associate pastor of Baptist Tabernacle in Atlanta, pastor of First Baptist Church of Chattahoochee, Lithia Heights Baptist Church in Lithia Springs, Ga., Connally Drive Baptist Church in East Point, Ga., Buckhead Baptist Church in Atlanta. He also worked at the Atlanta Union Mission from 1988 to 1991.