GREENVILLE, S.C. – John E. Roberts, longest-serving editor in the 143-year history of The Baptist Courier in South Carolina, died Aug. 15 at a Greenville retirement community following a brief illness. He was 85.
Roberts joined the Courier staff in 1965 as associate editor and business manager. He succeeded S.H. Jones as the Courier’s editor in 1966, serving in the post until his retirement in 1996.
After renting space from its printer for years, the Courier purchased property under Roberts’ leadership for its own facility in Greenville, constructing its first offices in 1967-68 and expanding them in 1978-79. While he was editor, the Courier’s circulation reached its highest point at more than 120,000.
Don Kirkland, who succeeded Roberts as editor, said his predecessor “raised the bar of professionalism significantly higher,” adding, “his professionalism coupled with a love for and a commitment to Christian journalism and denominational service deserve highest praise and appreciation.”
John E. Roberts
Roberts, a native of Shelby, N.C., was a graduate of Gardner-Webb College (now University), Furman University and Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. He began his career as a public schoolteacher in Gastonia, N.C., and subsequently worked at the Gastonia Gazette and Gardner-Webb College.
Before coming to the Courier, he was public relations director for Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina in Thomasville and editor of its publication, Charity and Children.
Roberts served as president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention in 1979-80. He also was chairman of trustees for the former Radio and Television Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention in Fort Worth, Texas, and president of the Southern Baptist Press Association, which now is the Association of State Baptist Papers. He had also been a trustee at Gardner-Webb and was a veteran of the United States Army having served in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
He was awarded the Order of the Palmetto, South Carolina’s highest citation for a civilian, by then-Gov. Carroll Campbell in 1992.
As he approached retirement, Roberts wrote in an editorial that it had been “a high honor and a special privilege” to serve as the Courier’s editor.
“For as long as I can remember,” he wrote, “I wanted to be a newspaper editor. I had a growing awareness also that God had a claim on me. As the two merged, I have been the most fortunate of men.”
In his last editorial dated Feb. 29, 1996, his final day at the Courier, Roberts turned his thoughts to the denomination he had served for three decades. “South Carolina Baptists,” he said, “have the potential for greatness” with the approach of the 21st century.
“My prayer,” he wrote, “is that we will go into the 21st century as a strong, inclusive convention. Anything less holds the seeds of ultimate and utter failure. On the other hand, working and worshipping together with nobody pushed aside can glorify God as we become his church.”
Roberts is survived by his wife Helen, three daughters, Jonna R. Hamrick, Jill R. Gibbs, and Julie R. Freeman, all of Greenville; three sons, Wayne Roberts of Lexington, Mark Roberts of Greer, Glenn Roberts of Greenville; a sister, Bonnie R. Price of North Carolina; and eight grandchildren.
Visitation will be held Friday, August 17, 2012 from 9:30 a.m. until 10:45 a.m. in the Narthex of First Baptist Church, Greenville, with the funeral service following at 11 a.m. in the church sanctuary officiated by the Baxter Wynn. Burial will be in Woodlawn Memorial Park. Memorials may be made to First Baptist Church Greenville, 847 Cleveland Street, Greenville, SC 29601, or The Paladin Club c/o Furman University, 3300 Poinsett Highway, Greenville, SC 29613. The family will be at the home of his daughter, Julie Freeman, 424 E. Seven Oaks Drive, Greenville.
Condolences may be sent to the family by visiting www.thomasmcafee.com.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Reported by the staff of The Baptist Courier, newsjournal of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.)