Baylor Mourns Death of Retired Religion Professor

March 20, 2007
News Photo 4001Russell Lester

Dr. Russell Lester, retired emeritus professor of religion at Baylor, passed away Saturday, March 17, after a lengthy battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 78. Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, March 23, at Wilkirson-Hatch-Bailey Funeral Home in Waco. A private burial will be at Oakwood Cemetery. Visitation with the family will be from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, March 22, also at Wilkirson-Hatch-Bailey.

"He was the epitome of a Christian gentleman. It was absolutely impossible not to love Russell Lester," said Baylor Provost Randall O'Brien, who served for many years with Lester in the religion department.

Lester was born in Carnegie, Okla., on Sept. 30, 1928. He received his bachelor's degree from Oklahoma Baptist University and his bachelor of divinity degree and doctor of theology degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Joining the Baylor faculty in 1957, Lester taught Old Testament, New Testament and Bible survey classes to generations of Baylor students, as well as courses in the life and letters of Paul, the life and teachings of Jesus and the epistles. He was known for his difficult classes and was fondly referred to by students as "Lester the tester, the grade-point molester, the man who gave Jesus a B." He retired from teaching in 1999.

"He laughed at the saying as hard as anyone," O'Brien said. "He was known as a thorough, demanding scholar and teacher, but one who so loved his students that they gave him in return the very best that they had to offer, as he did them."

In an article in the Baylor Lariat before his retirement, Lester said, "I never have given up on the idea that students need information first. I may be old-fashioned but I think one of the things you do is dispense truth as best you can determine it."

The author of numerous publications, Lester wrote articles for the Disciple's Study Bible, Perspectives in Religious Studies and many Sunday school lessons. Additionally, he served as a member and former president of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion and a member of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. He also was an ordained minister who served as interim pastor and supply minister for churches across Texas.

Lester is survived by his wife of 56 years, Virginia Mae Lester; two children, Byron Kyle Lester and wife, Leann, of Waco, and Melinda Kaye and husband, Phillip Brown, of Corona Del Mar, Calif.; eight grandchildren, three great-grandchildren; and brother, Duane Lester of Naples, Fla.

Memorials can be made to the Baylor Department of Religion.

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