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Former OBU President William Tanner Dies

June 11, 2007

Dr. William G. Tanner, president of Oklahoma Baptist University from 1971-76, died Sunday, June 10. He was 77.

"OBU has lost a dear friend in Bill Tanner. He was the consummate Baptist statesman who never shied away from God's call on his life," said OBU President Mark Brister. "As a pastor, an educator, an administrator and denominational leader, Bill consistently led by example. His love for people, his humor, his wit and his example will be long remembered. Elected OBU's 11th president in June 1971, Tanner's tenure on Bison Hill was marked by record student enrollment and construction of the University's main library, the Mabee Learning Center. He resigned in September 1976 to become president of the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (now the North American Mission Board). He returned to Oklahoma in 1986 as executive director-treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. He retired from that post in 1995.

Tanner moved to OBU from Mary Hardin-Baylor College, where he served as president from 1968-71. He previously was a pastor at Baptist churches in Mississippi and Texas.

Born March 10, 1930, in Tulsa, Okla., he graduated from high school in Bryan, Texas. He completed a bachelor's degree in English and religion from Baylor University in 1951. He earned a master's degree in administration from the University of Houston in 1953, and a doctorate in administration and guidance from the University of Houston in 1956. He then earned two degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, completing the bachelor of divinity degree in 1958, and the doctor of theology degree in 1967.

A vocal advocate for Baptist higher education, Tanner served two years as chairman of the Southern Baptist Education Commission while OBU president.

"When you're talking about Christian Education, you're talking about a philosophy and attitude that permeates all disciplines," he said during a press conference following his election as OBU president: It's something more that is caught rather than just taught. It's something that's experienced rather than learned. I see Christian Education as a way of life."

Tanner's arrival at OBU was heralded by Dr. Herschel H. Hobbs, longtime pastor of the First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, who was chairman of the university's board of trustees in 1971.

"By nature, training and experience, he will lead OBU to new heights of service for the Lord," said Hobbs.

Under Tanner's leadership, OBU's enrollment grew from less than 1,600 to a record of 1,818 in 1975. The University's budget grew from $3.6 million to $5.2 million. The Mabee Learning Center capital project garnered $1.8 million in gifts and contributions.

In the Fall 1976 issue of OBU's quarterly alumni magazine, "The Anvil," John W. Parrish, then the University's public relations director, reflected on Tanner's tenure.

"Bill Tanner accomplished many things during his five years at OBU. But Bill Tanner probably will be remembered on Bison Hill, in Shawnee, and in Oklahoma for his personal public relations. He is a very warm, friendly man who builds and enjoys friendships with diverse people, and it would be impossible to estimate the number of people who call him friend.

"He knew hundreds of students by name. He kidded them, and they kidded him. Even the drudgery of faculty meetings was relieved somewhat by his sense of humor. The Baptists of Oklahoma knew him as an excellent preacher with an unending repertoire of jokes."

Parrish, who retired as OBU's executive vice president in 2002, recalled Tanner's influence at the University.

"He was a friend to all of us who worked at OBU, and we greatly enjoyed watching his family grow up on Bison Hill.

"I was privileged to continue my friendship with the Tanners through the years and am saddened that we have lost this good man and outstanding Baptist leader," said Parrish.

Tanner's affiliation with OBU was renewed when he returned to Oklahoma as head of the state's Baptist convention in the mid-1980's. OBU presented Tanner an honorary doctor of divinity degree in February 1988, in recognition of his contributions to the denomination.

Tanner is survived by his wife, Ellen, two sons, William Jr., and Keith, and a daughter, Kimberly. He was preceded in death by a son, Mark.

Funeral services will be Thursday, June 14, at 2 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Belton, Texas. Dossman Funeral Home in Belton is in charge of arrangements.