Veteran Baptist journalist Roy Jennings dies at age 83

Posted: 12/03/07

Veteran Baptist journalist
Roy Jennings dies at age 83

By Lonnie Wilkey

Tennessee Baptist & Reflector

GERMANTOWN, Tenn. (ABP)—Veteran Southern Baptist journalist Roy Jennings died Nov. 22. He was 83.

Jennings is best known in Southern Baptist circles for his work as news editor in the newsrooms at the annual meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was also instrumental in helping Southern Baptist journalists gain the respect of their secular counterparts.

“Roy Jennings was the consummate news professional, a model citizen in his community, a loyal churchman, devoted to his family, and a personal friend whose memory I shall cherish all of my days,’ said W.C. Fields, the retired director of Baptist Press, the news division of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Fields said Jennings’ work as copy chief in the newsroom was well-known and respected.

“A reporter for the New York Times once told me that if it were not for his own sense of pride, he could take Roy’s twice-daily wrap-up stories on the SBC meeting and, without reading them, attach his own byline and put them in the Times,” Fields said.

Jennings earned a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma. He began working shortly afterwards at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn., where he covered police and federal courts before becoming the night city editor.

Jennings left The Commercial Appeal in 1959 to begin a career in Southern Baptist communications. He joined the staff of the former Southern Baptist Convention Brotherhood Commission in 1959. During his 22-year tenure with the Memphis-based agency, Jennings organized and directed an editorial department to prepare missions materials for 600,000 men and boys throughout the United States.

In 1981, Jennings began work to establish a communications program and public relations program at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis. With the establishment of the Baptist Memorial Health Care System two years later, he added the public relations functions of the system to his duties.

Dan Martin, a former news editor for Baptist Press, said Jennings was a “solid professional” during the SBC’s turmoil in the 1970s and 1980s. He exemplified one of the reasons Southern Baptist journalism did so well during that period, Martin said.

Marv Knox, editor of the Baptist Standard, worked with Jennings as a reporter in the SBC newsroom and as feature editor with Baptist Press.

“One of the first things I think about Roy is that through his work in the newsroom he lifted the quality of Baptist journalism for at least two generations of reporters and editors,” Knox said.

Knox said Jennings demonstrated that Baptist journalists had the same quality and professional standards as journalists at major daily newspapers and wire services.

“Other journalists trusted and respected the work we did in the newsroom because they trusted and respected Roy’s professionalism,” Knox said.

Knox said Jennings was a good teacher, as well.

“He had very high standards, but he also worked with the newsroom staff with a great sense of grace and respect. People who worked with him learned a tremendous amount about journalism just by being around him and seeing how he edited their stories.”

Jennings was a president of the Memphis chapter of Public Relations Society of America and the Baptist Public Relations Association (now Baptist Communications Association).

He retired from the health-care system in 1989. Jennings is survived by his wife of 63 years, Marye, and a daughter, Gail Jennings of Roswell, Ga.

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