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Profile in Excellence: Embracing Life with Music

January 22, 2008

Music is a great unifier. Over a lifetime of studying, performing and directing music, Tom Willoughby has learned to be an effective mediator of melody.

Willoughby chose OBU for his college education because his church's music minister told him it was a proven training ground for musicians "making a difference."

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The Profile in Excellence award is given by the OBU Alumni Association to a former student who has "demonstrated recognizable accomplishment in his or her profession, business, avocation, or life service in such a way as to bring pride and honor to the University." Each year, Profile In Excellence recipients are featured in OBU Magazine.

Music is a great unifier. Over a lifetime of studying, performing and directing music, Tom Willoughby has learned to be an effective mediator of melody.

Growing up in Tyler, Texas, Tom knew God called him into music ministry in the late 1960s, when he was a senior in high school. He then met with Joe Carrell, his church music minister, about what he should do to pursue his calling.

"Do you know about OBU?" Carrell asked. He told Willoughby most of the music ministers who were "making a difference" in Southern Baptist churches were graduates of OBU.

It did not take long to convince Tom. He knew OBU was for him on his first trip to Shawnee.

"I fell in love immediately when I stepped on campus," he said. "It was a warm, inviting community. When I met James Woodward, I knew he would be an excellent mentor."

From the beginning, Willoughby plugged himself into OBU's music program. Along with Dr. Woodward, dean of the Warren M. Angell College of Fine Arts, Tom learned from the legendary namesake of the college.

"It was a great honor to be influenced by Dr. Angell," he said. "The entire faculty followed his leading by investing their lives into the lives of the students. Even after my college years, I can tell that is prevalent at OBU."

After graduation, Tom worked on his master's degree in church music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and served as music associate at University Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He credits Joe King, the church's minister of music and a 1956 OBU graduate, for his on-the-job training.

"Joe gave me a tremendous opportunity to put my skills in good use every week," he said.

Tom's first full-time position was serving as minister of music at First Baptist Church in Kingston, Tenn. He said his four years in the east Tennessee town were a wonderful start to ministry work.

The climate changed for Tom in 1979. He moved from the Smoky Mountains to the west Texas town of El Paso. He served as the minister of music and media at the First Baptist Church of El Paso.

After three years in El Paso, Tom returned to Shawnee and served as music minister at the First Baptist Church, filling a position previously held by his mentors.

For the past 22 years, Tom has served at the First Baptist Church of Lawton as the associate pastor for music and worship. Music is the core of his ministry, but he has embraced the expansion of pastoral care his current role offers.

Tom served as president of the Baptist Church Music Conference in 2005-06. He also has filled other elected positions, including president of Singing Churchmen of Oklahoma. He currently is a committee member for a new hymn book, Celebrating Grace - Hymnal For Baptist Worship, which will be published soon.

With the transition that church music has experienced in recent years, Tom has worked with the different styles of music. He knows when it comes to singing in church, "one size doesn't fit all."

"God is at work in many kinds of music in churches," he said. "I embrace all styles of music and how they touch people during worship."

He said First Baptist Church decided to handle the music transition through a corporate effort.

"We made a collaborative decision to offer different styles, but the best way for a church to decide is to be together on the decision," he said. "Different people have different perspectives on music, but it is important for a church to be unified in how they choose to worship."

Click the following link to view a full list of previous Profile in Excellence recipients.