May 2, 2016
Free Will Baptist Executive Office
Antioch, TN—Dr. Jack Williams, former editor of Contact magazine, died Friday, April 29, 2016, at age 73. Jack had struggled to regain his health since November 2012, when a massive stroke left him partially paralyzed.
Jack was born in 1942 on a sharecropper’s cotton farm in West Carroll Parish, Louisiana. He was saved in 1958 at age 16 at nearby Sardis Free Will Baptist Church. Eight months later he accepted God’s call to preach. When the Sardis Church offered him a pastorate shortly thereafter, the 17-year-old high school senior accepted, and using a borrowed Bible, began his nearly 60-year ministry.
After graduating from high school, Jack attended Free Will Baptist Bible College, graduating in 1966 with Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Theology degrees. More importantly, he met and married Janis Wilcox, “prettiest girl in West Virginia,” as he called her. He continued his education at Sacramento Baptist Theological Seminary, completing a M.A. in 1973 and a Ph.D. from Louisiana Baptist University in 1976.
From 1959-1969, Jack pastored churches in Louisiana, Tennessee, and Arkansas, before accepting a position as academic dean at California Christian College, where he remained for eight years. Then, in 1977, Jack began what became his life’s work as editor of Contact magazine and executive assistant for the Free Will Baptist Executive Office. In addition to editing the magazine, the role included oversight of day-to-day operations and the planning of the annual convention.
Jack quickly earned a reputation for excellence and professionalism, both in the convention planning community and in the publishing world. He was named Meeting Planner of the Year by the Association for Convention Operations in 1995 and received the President’s Award from the Religious Conference Management Association in 2001.
He was known for witty writing, journalistic objectivity, and constant encouragement and development of new writers. His strong journalistic ethics are evident in the words of his final Contact magazine editorial: “Those who wield the journalistic sword must be careful where they lay the edge of the blade lest they harm the innocent while probing for truth.” His writing and work as editor earned 13 awards from the Evangelical Press Association and helped launch a fleet of new Free Will Baptist writers.
In 2005, after Contact magazine ceased publication, Jack accepted a position as director of publications for Welch College, where he remained until his retirement in 2014. Provost Greg Ketteman reflected on Jack’s time at the school: “He arrived on campus early each day and maintained an open-door office policy welcoming students, faculty, staff, and visitors. He did an excellent job preparing news releases, editing publications, and fulfilling other duties as communications director.”
Throughout his life and ministry, Jack remained fully dedicated to the work of Free Will Baptists. In addition to a number of local and regional positions, he served as assistant moderator of the California State Association (1971-1977), member of the national Sunday School Board (1975-1977), and chairman of the Free Will Baptist Press Association (1978-1991). Another notable denominational work was with the Free Will Baptist Historical Commission, where he served from 1977 until his passing.
Robert E. Picirilli recalls his long-time friend: “Jack was one of the good guys, a personal friend whom I admired. Nobody loved the Free Will Baptist denomination and its ministries any better. He was a gifted speaker and writer, spoke positively about others, and believed in building up rather than tearing down. We’ll remember him most for his long stint as editor of Contact, and I for the many years we worked together on the FWB Historical Commission. We will miss him.”
Executive Secretary Keith Burden noted, “Jack Williams was an encourager, a cheerleader. He may have been short in stature, but he cast a long shadow across our denomination. I’m a better leader and writer because of Brother Jack.”
Perhaps the best way to remember Jack is to recall his own words, penned in an editorial for Contact magazine: “The point of all this is that the work of God goes on when the people of God die. Abraham dies—Isaac steps up. Moses dies—Joshua leads Israel across Jordan. Stephen dies in the last verse of Acts 7. Acts 8 opens with God’s hand already on a young man named Saul of Tarsus. The work of God never stops. The people of God wipe away the tears, strap on their spurs, and keep looking up…I like the way God writes obituaries for His people. They all end, not with a period, but with a comma.”
Jack is survived by Janis Wilcox Williams, his wife of 53 years; daughter, Rebecca Deel and husband Recardo; son, Brad Williams and wife, Tina; grandchildren, Austin Deel, Andrew Deel, Kristen Williams and Kullen Williams; sister, Carol Mariche; and brother, Jerry Williams. He was preceded in death by a grandson, Kyler Williams.