Generations of students benefitted from the leadership of Fred S. Witty, Jr. I knew Fred as colleague, friend, and mentor. Fred passed away on August 12 this year after a brief illness.
His obituary shares the basic information about life, death, family and career, but this just scratches the surface of Fred’s impact. A veteran of World War II, Fred returned to New Mexico State University to complete his education and take a leadership role in the Baptist Student Union there when the director left. He found his calling in that role and pursued his graduate degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
While the BSU director at the University of Louisville, he invited Emmanuel McCall, one of the first African-American students on campus to become involved in the student ministry. This did not go down well with some local Baptist pastors and churches and (I understand) led to his departure from that position. Of course, McCall went on to become a distinguished leader in Baptist life as pastor, denominational leader, vice president of the Baptist World Alliance, and moderator of the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The remainder of Fred’s active ministry was pursued at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee. He impacted the lives of innumerable students in that position. Many became active lay leaders in local churches and others effective ministry leaders. For several years, ETSU led the nation in the number of students from a single campus participating in the Journeyman program, a two-year overseas missions experience sponsored by the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention.
I first knew Fred as a fellow campus minister when I served at Middle Tennessee State University and Carson-Newman College (now University). For several years prior to his retirement, I was the director of collegiate ministries in the state and served as Fred’s supervisor. Fred was kind enough to tolerate me in that role!
While I was state director, I learned several things about Fred. First, Fred’s “office” was really in the multipurpose room of the Baptist Student Center. He worked at a table there. I think he was concerned that someone would come into the building and he wouldn’t see them. He did not want to miss making a personal contact.
Second, Fred was a pack rat. Friends and family might say that I am one as well, but I don’t hold a candle to Fred at his best. If we could not find something in the state office—a program folder, list of summer missionaries, etc.—it was pretty well guaranteed that Fred had a copy (if he could find it).
Third, Fred was a reader. He would often mention a new or old book that he had read recently and an insight he had gained. This always stimulated me to consider reading that book myself.
Fourth, he loved his family. Joy and the children made many sacrifices to support his ministry and he always showed appreciation for them.
We are all richer for having known Fred Witty. I talked with him on the phone just a few months back and he was asking for an update on former colleagues. He was always interested in people. He was one of the best!