FORT WORTH, Texas – “Without hyperbole, I can truthfully say I never met a man greater than Roy Fish,” Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, Tenn., said in eulogizing the distinguished professor of evangelism emeritus during a memorial service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Faculty, former students, denominational leaders and pastors from across the country joined with family members to honor Fish at the seminary’s campus Sept. 14 in Fort Worth, Texas. Fish, 82, died peacefully the morning of Sept. 10.
“He loved all the right things in the right way,” said Gaines, who served as Fish’s grader for seven years while earning a master’s and doctorate from Southwestern. “He loved Jesus first; he loved his family second; he loved his ministry after that. He loved students, he loved this school and he loved the Southern Baptist Convention.
“He turned down job positions where he could make more money than he made as a seminary professor,” Gaines continued, “but the wealth he turned down is not worthy to be compared to the riches he poured into students decade after decade. Nor is it comparable to millions who’ve heard the gospel because of him training thousands of preachers. He was where he was supposed to be; he belonged at Southwestern.”
Photo by Alyssa Karr/SWBTS
A friend visits with Jean Fish, wife of Roy Fish, during the memorial service for the distinguished professor of evangelism emeritus at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Sept. 14.
Roy Fish’s son Steve spoke of growing up in the Fish household with a dad who was a man of prayer and a passionate evangelist. He recalled numerous times when his father would share the gospel with neighbors, strangers, waitresses and people they met on family vacations.
“This man was not sharing the gospel because it was his job; it wasn’t his profession,” Steve Fish said of his father. “It wasn’t something he wanted to leave behind on vacation. It was his passion. It was his life. It was his very breath.”
Steve Fish recalled how his father knew the spiritual condition of all his neighbors and how he loved and prayed for each one of them regularly. Even in his final days in the hospital, Roy Fish asked every nurse who attended him if she had a relationship with Jesus Christ. All but one professed to know Christ, and he was burdened for that one who was still lost.
Fish reminded those in the memorial service about the power of the gospel that his father preached and how it continues to thrive. He pointed to 2 Timothy 2:1 as a reminder of Roy Fish’s legacy.
“The legacy that Roy Fish carried did not go with him to the grave,” Steve said in reference to the gospel. “That legacy is in this room right now. That legacy has been imparted to us, that something amazingly precious has been imparted to us through this man. No amount of money can buy the spiritual things that have been entrusted to us.
“We are not here this morning to simply honor and remember the life of a man, but we are here before the Lord to take up that legacy. We are here to respond afresh to heaven’s call.”
During those final days, as family gathered at his bedside, Fish asked for them to open his Bible and place his finger on 1 John 5:13, which says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”
He also asked Steve to read aloud 2 Timothy 4:6-8, which says, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Roy Fish served Southwestern for nearly 50 years and had occupied the L. R. Scarborough Chair of Evangelism (“The Chair of Fire”) for many years. Preaching in churches around the world, his name has become synonymous with “evangelism” throughout the Southern Baptist Convention.
After earning a bachelor’s degree at the University of Arkansas in 1952, Fish moved to Southwestern Seminary, where he earned his bachelor of divinity (equivalent to the M.Div.) and his doctor of theology. As a professor at Southwestern, Fish impacted the lives of thousands of students, many who credit their professor with instilling a fire for evangelism in their souls. For many years, Fish organized the annual spring break revival practicum (now called Revive This Nation) as the seminary sent out hundreds of student preachers across the United States to preach revivals in local churches.
Fish held several prominent denominational positions, including interim president of the North American Mission Board and second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He served as pastor or interim pastor at more than 20 churches, and he spoke and preached at conventions, conferences and churches on every continent except Antarctica. He authored several books and numerous articles and essays on evangelism.
Fish also received various awards, including the W.A. Criswell Lifetime Award in Evangelism from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) and the Charles G. Finney Award for Evangelism in Theological Education. In 2006, the SBTC established the Roy Fish Evangelism Award.
In 2005, Southwestern honored Fish when the seminary’s division of evangelism and missions in the school of theology was reorganized and named the Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions.
Fish is survived by his wife Jean Holley Fish; their four children, Steve Fish, Holli Lancaster, Jeff Fish and Jennifer Pastoor; and 15 grandchildren.
A video of the memorial service can be accessed at http://www.swbts.edu/RoyFishMemorial.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Keith Collier is director of news and information at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.)