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A life well lived

Aug. 21, 2007

When Methodist Bishop Warren A. Candler died, a friend wrote of him, "When he left us, it was as if a great tree had fallen in the forest, and left an empty place against the sky."

That's the way we feel today. A great leader has fallen and left an empty place in our hearts and life. Every part of this service today speaks of the life and loyalties of Herbert H. Reynolds.

We are meeting in the church rather than a large arena. That's because he loved the church. The scriptures say Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. Herb loved the church and gave himself to it--as a deacon, as a Sunday School teacher, as a steward.

The three flags here at the front speak of the great loyalties of his life. First, the American flag draped across the casket speaks of his love for his country. Herb was a true patriot, serving in the Air Force for 20 years, until he retired at the age of 38. His outstanding career included teaching at the Air Force Academy until he was given the assignment of Deputy Commander and Research Director of the Aeromedical Research Laboratories at Alamogordo, N.M. The laboratory was involved in research activities associated with the U.S. space program, specifically the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo projects of NASA.

The Baylor flag speaks of his love for and loyalty to Baylor. He then came to Baylor to teach ROTC while still in the Air Force, and while here, completed his master's degree in psychology followed by his doctor's degree in experimental psychology (neuroscience) and clinical psychology. He joined Baylor's administration as executive vice president. In 1981, he became the 11th president of Baylor.

In the next 14 years, he distinguished himself as a visionary leader and a brilliant administrator. During his presidency, more than $180 million in renovated and new facilities were added to Baylor, the endowment quadrupled, total net assets of the university tripled, and there was no increase in indebtedness.

His years at Baylor were marked by an emphasis on academic excellence, Baylor's admission to the Big 12--the only private school in the conference--and the introduction of women's athletics. I was privileged, along with David Guinn as our faculty advisor, to chair the trustee's committee that recommended we begin women's athletics at Baylor, but I was convinced nothing would come of it. Who would ever want to watch girls play basketball or softball? That shows what a brilliant group Herb had to work with.

All of these achievements mark Herb as one of the great presidents in Baylor's history. As long as Baylor lasts and no matter how far we fling our green and gold, people will associate Baylor's greatness with Herbert Reynolds.

Herb retired as president of Baylor in 1995 and became chancellor for the next five years. He then retired and became president emeritus in 2000. In the years that followed, he received multiple awards: Baylor's Founders Medal, the Independent Colleges and Universities of Texas Founders Medal, the Lifetime Achievement Award given by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Elder Statesmen award given by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Then he and Joy were inducted into Baylor's Medallion Fellowship with the Pat Neff award just this past year.

The Christian flag speaks of the greatest loyalty of his life, that to Christ. He became a Christian at the age of nine in the First Baptist Church of Frankston where he was born. My favorite story about Herb Reynolds is related to his Christian pilgrimage that began in Frankston. Shortly after I became a trustee, Herb had a very serious heart attack. For several days, his life hung by a thread. When he finally recovered and came back for our first trustees' meeting, someone asked him, "When you were in intensive care with all those tubes and machines hooked up to you, what did you think about?" Without hesitation he said, "My mind went back to the things I learned at my mother's knee in Frankston, Texas--namely, Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

That story tells you as much about Herbert Reynolds as anything else I could say. He was a sinner saved by grace and never forgot it, nor pretended to be anything else.

The one flag that is missing is a flag with JOY on it. They would have had 57 years together this June, and she was truly the love of his life. Last year, I asked Herb to accompany me on an overnight fund-raising trip. He declined, saying he had promised Joy that in retirement he would never spend another night away from her. Such was their love and commitment.

I don't remember when Herb first asked me to conduct his funeral service, but I do remember the last time. It was March 21, the day after his 77th birthday. His one bit of advice was to keep it short.

We had recently attended a funeral together where there were several speakers who brought eulogies. One of them far exceeded his allotted time and paused twice to wipe tears from his eyes. As we left the chapel, Herb said to me, "Paul, don't go on and on about me. Just tell them that I was a pretty good guy most of the time. Now let's stand and have a closing hymn and go home."

I wish it were that easy. The challenge, of course, is to do justice to the life of a great man and, at the same time, honor his request.

I became a trustee/regent the same year that Herb became president at Baylor. For the next 26 years, we walked together, worked together, worried together, and warred together. I use the word "war" in the sense that the apostle Paul did.

In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, Paul wrote, "I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."

The apostle Paul was one of his heroes. He wrote to me on October 2, 2000, "I have often said that right after I have been in the presence of Christ, if I am able to recover from that encounter, I want to meet Paul."

Herb admired Paul because of his courage and his conviction in the face of controversy and hardships, and Herb was no stranger to controversy.

Paul didn't say, "I have fought a good fight," i.e., "I served valiantly; I gave it my best shot." He said, "I have fought the good fight," i.e., "I have stood for the right cause; I have lived for the right purposes; I have advanced the truth of God."

In that sense, Herb Reynolds fought the good fight, also. Herb's fight was for the truth, for Baptist principles, primarily the principle of freedom. He was, in every sense of the word, a freedom fighter.

He was the epitome of a Christian gentleman, but on matters of principle he would not give an inch. He could be as tough as a boot, but as tender as a morning fog. As someone said, "He was pure courage and pure class."

He was a defender of religious liberty--the right of every person to worship according to the dictates of his/her own conscience. He stood for the priesthood of the believer--the right of every Christian under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to understand and interpret scripture for himself without the necessity of a creed or a priest. And he stood for academic freedom--the right to teach the truth as you understand it.

He realized that there are risks that accompany freedom. In a climate of religious liberty, cults can flourish. Under the priesthood of the believer, strange interpretations can emerge. And with academic freedom, embarrassing and controversial teachings surface. But he, like I, believed that the rewards are worth the risk.

It was because of his strong belief in Baptist principles of freedom that he became one of our most respected leaders and a real hero among all true Baptists.

History will reveal his true legacy, but two things must be included in it: First, the charter change of 1990 that altered the governance of Baylor and gave it its independence and autonomy from the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Herb never wanted to separate from Baptists. He was a Baptist through and through, but he wanted to keep Baylor true to its mission and its tradition and not allow it to become a fundamentalist Bible college. He felt this was the safest and surest way to guarantee that.

The second thing in his legacy will be the founding of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary. I said to him on more than one occasion, I thought that was his greatest stroke of genius. To start the seminary before it was needed and to name it after the greatest preacher/pastor ever to come out of Texas, and perhaps out of America, was a brilliant move. The inspiration came when he and Joy were vacationing in Europe one summer. But, of course, Herb never took a vacation mentally from Baylor, and while walking and praying one day, the idea was born.

Truett today has become the premier Baptist seminary of the world. It is a Christ-centered, Bible-based seminary committed to our historic Baptist principles and, at last report, the fastest-growing seminary in the world. It owes its existence and its success to Herb Reynolds more than any other person.

In my quotation of the apostle Paul, he went on to write, "... I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." On Friday of last week, Herb finished his course. His significant life came to a quiet ending in Angel Fire, N.M.

Paul's final word was "Henceforth, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing."

The word "henceforth" refers to what is yet to come, what lies ahead. For the follower of Christ, life does not end at the cemetery. Death is not the final chapter in our existence. The grave is not the ultimate victor. Henceforth, there is heaven, and Christ, and a crown.

A couple of years ago I visited, for the first time, the grave of my great-great grandfather Henry Jackson Powell. I knelt beside the tombstone and brushed away the mud and sand that had been splattered there by a hundred years of rains and read these words:

Here I lay my burden down

Changing the cross for a crown.

That's what my friend Herb Reynolds did. He laid down his burden and took up his crown.

The bottom line is this: Herbert Reynolds was a good guy most of the time, and he was my friend and the friend of freedom-loving Baptists all the time. He lived a noble life and never lost the wonder of the profound truth, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

Reynolds' life was marked by his love and support for Baylor University. Upon his retirement as president in 1995, the university established the Herbert H. and Joy C. Reynolds Endowment for University Advancement, which has garnered the support of alumni, family and friends, as well as support from the Reynolds family during Dr. Reynolds' lifetime. In addition, the family has requested memorial gifts be made to the Baylor University Alumni Association.

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