My Debt to John Roberts

As I think back on my journey of faith and my career in Baptist communications, telephone calls and John Roberts first come to mind.


In the late 1960s, fresh out of college, I accepted a teaching position at Newberry High School. I had family there and it was a good place to start, and even finish, I supposed.?

The first life-changing call came from my dad, who had been named associational missionary for the Kershaw Baptist Association headquartered in Camden. He had talked with Lester Robinson, managing editor of The Lancaster News. “Do you think Don would be interested in the sports editor position at the News?” he asked. So Dad called me. I was interested, and hired. So my wife and growing family and I moved back home. They were good times by any accounting.

And then the next telephone call. It was from Courier editor John Roberts. He had read a sports column I had written about a Baptist preacher who had made a name for himself playing football at the University of Georgia. He asked me to add a little to the religious part of the column, and he would run it in the Courier as a feature article. The year was 1967.

I later wrote an article about one of Lancaster’s churches, which was published in the Courier. One day, John came to see me. We cut through an alley or two behind the Lancaster News building and ate sandwiches at one of the drug stores.

And then there was another phone call. It was from Ben Bagwell, who was director of communications for Furman University. “We’re looking for a news bureau director and you’ve been recommended to us. Would you be willing to interview for the job?” I did not know at the time who recommended me. I later learned it was John Roberts. He also had recommended me for the sports director position at Gardner-Webb, but when that call came I already had accepted the Furman position.

While at Furman, my relationship with John, and with South Carolina Baptists and denominational work in general, grew stronger and I began to feel the hand of God on my life in the field of Baptist communications and Christian journalism.

At Furman, which was the SCBC’s flagship university, I met Cordell Maddox, who later would become vice president and then president of Anderson College. My dad had a close relationship with Anderson president Ed Rouse, who knew me from my student days there. In short, Cordell asked me to join him at Anderson in the field of communications and public relations.

John Roberts (left) and myself, from 1994.

At Anderson, my spirit grew restless. I loved my work, but longed for a seminary education. Cordell gave me enough time off one summer to attend school at Southeastern Seminary. The desire grew, and so one day I called John (another of those phone calls) and told him I was giving thought to going to seminary full-time.?

“Come over to Greenville and let’s talk about it,” he said. We did, and he offered me a position on the editorial staff of the Courier. The year was 1974. If my service at Furman and Anderson are added to my tenure at the Courier, I will retire at the end of December with 42 years of denominational service in Baptist communications.

My debt to John Roberts is enormous. He had enough confidence in me to recommend me at Furman, opening the door for future ministry at Anderson College, and then he thought enough of my abilities and me to hire me at the Courier. And more, as he was pointing toward retirement at the age of 69 in 1996, he threw his support behind me for the editor’s position.?

Not so long ago, my friend Charlie Warren, who had retired as editor of The Arkansas Baptist, called me. We talked for a while, and then he asked me, “Don, what is the strongest emotion you feel now that you’re retiring?”

One word, I told him: gratitude. I am grateful for the places of service I have been given for most of my years on earth and for just about all of my professional life. And for a career in denominational service that has satisfied, inspired and enriched my life, I am thankful to God – and to John Roberts.