A. Harold Cole, 90, who served as executive secretary-treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention from 1970-1982, died March 29, 2010 at a Lexington hospital following a period of declining health.
During his tenure, South Carolina Baptist church membership grew by 85,000, and 128 new churches were started. Cooperative Program giving increased from $5.3 million in 1970 to $16 million in 1982.
Cole oversaw the planning and construction of the state denomination’s White Oak Conference Center in Winnsboro. He is also credited with starting an annual conference on Bible study and preaching that continues to to attract South Carolina pastors each summer to Anderson University.
James Wright, SCBC chief financial officer and associate executive director of the mission support team, began working at the state convention office after graduating from college in 1978, during Cole’s administration. He said Cole was a personable leader who was always interested in convention staff members and their families. “The trait I remember most from his tenure was his genuine concern for the churches. He had a strong commitment to the local church and sought to help churches grow and minister in their own community,” Wright said.
Wright said a framed print hung in Cole’s office that described Cole’s passion for his work. “It included 2 Corinthians 11:28, which says ‘Every day I am under the pressure of my concerns for all the churches.’ That verse really identifies who Dr. Cole was in serving churches,” Wright said.
Ray Rust, who succeeded Cole as executive secretary-treasurer in 1982, now retired, described Cole as “a genuine Christian gentleman, a deeply committed Christian and a highly respected leader among South Carolina Baptists.”
“His unpretentious lifestyle endeared him to a generation of those Baptists,” Rust said. “I am indebted to him for making the leadership transition from his retirement to my assuming the office a trouble-free and helpful transition.”
Born in Greenville County on March 23, 1920, Cole was a graduate of North Greenville College, Furman University and Southern Seminary. He also studied at Union Theological Seminary. He was ordained to preach in 1941. He was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Furman University in 1967.
He was former pastor of South Main Street Baptist Church in Greenwood and First Baptist Church, Clemson. He also pastored churches in Indiana and Alabama.
He served as state student director both in South Carolina and North Carolina and as executive secretary of the North Carolina Council of Christian Higher Education.
He was elected general secretary-treasurer (the position was later renamed executive secretary-treasurer) of the SCBC on Nov. 19, 1969, at the annual meeting of the state convention at Charleston Municipal Auditorium. He previously served as assistant general secretary-treasurer from 1962-69.
In a committee-authored tribute published in the 1981 SCBC Annual, Cole was praised as a leader of “keen mind,” “personal integrity and devotion to duty.”
“He always is concerned about the advance of our Lord’s Kingdom in South Carolina and to the ends of the earth,” the article stated.
A Baptist Courier editorial from Sept. 24, 1981, stated: “Harold Cole will be remembered also as a peace-keeper. South Carolina Baptists have had few serious controversies during his 12 years in office. He deserves much of the credit, because he has worked hard at solving small problems before they could become big.”
Survivors include Cole’s wife of 66 years, Inez Matthews Cole, their sons David and Charles, seven grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
He was a member of St. Andrews Baptist Church in Columbia.