By DR. KRISTINA CAMPOS DAVIS
Director of Communications, Hardin-Simmons University
On June 14, the Hardin-Simmons University family lost one of its most distinguished and well-loved members, former President Dr. Jesse C. Fletcher, who died at age 87.
A memorial service celebrating Dr. Fletcher’s life will be held in the main sanctuary at First Baptist Church at 2 p.m. Monday, June 18 at First Baptist Church. 1333 N. Third St. For family and friends who will be unable to attend, a live stream link will be made available prior to the service.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that gifts be made to the university to the Dr. Jesse C. Fletcher scholarship.
Enough cannot be said about the impact Dr. Fletcher had on the campus and in the Baptist community. HSU is the university it is today because of Dr. Fletcher’s work. Dr. Fletcher not only built up Hardin-Simmons but also ministered to the presidents that followed in his footsteps.
President Eric Bruntmyer says, “From the first day I met Dr. Fletcher, his prayers and encouragement poured down on me. As an older and wiser brother, Dr. Fletcher’s humility and kindness modeled how a follower of Christ lives.”
“Dr. Jess Fletcher is one of my all-time heroes and a very special friend.,” says former President Lanny Hall. “He was a remarkable individual who excelled in so many fields – ministry, higher education, art, golf, scholarship – the list goes on and on. He had a brilliant mind, was a gifted author and possessed the ability to relate to all types of people. He will long be remembered for his distinguished service as President, Chancellor, and President-Emeritus of Hardin-Simmons University.”
Former President Craig Turner says, “Jess Fletcher was a friend and a mentor who always had a smile and a warm greeting whenever we met—invariably addressing me with “Hello, Mr. President.” Even today—while I mourn his passing—to think of Jess makes me smile. What a remarkable legacy he created, full of a wide variety of accomplishments and brimming over with wonderful memories for those who were privileged to know him. Personally, I admired him, I respected him, and I loved him.”
Dr. Jesse Conrad Fletcher was born on April 9, 1931, in San Antonio to Jesse N. Fletcher and Ruby Arnold Fletcher. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1948, where he was senior class vice president, managing editor of the newspaper, a member of the National Honor Society and played on the golf team.
Upon graduation, he received a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves. Dr. Fletcher then enrolled at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned both his master’s of divinity degree and his doctorate of philosophy degree. His post-graduate work included terms at the Chaplain’s School at Fort Slocum, New York, the Institute of Religion at the Texas Medical Center in Houston and the University of Richmond.
In 1953, he was introduced to Dorothy Jordan on a blind date. He proposed after that single date, and they were married in February 1954. They were happily married until her death in 2013.
During his seminary years, Dr. Fletcher served as the pastor of Wellborn Baptist Church from 1953-1955, and Kopperl Baptist Church from 1955-1957.
In 1960, Dr. Fletcher began his career with the Southern Baptist Convention, working for the Foreign Mission Board. He occupied several administrative positions before his resignation in 1975 as the director of the mission support division. During this time, he traveled extensively through many of the countries where Southern Baptist missionaries were spreading the gospel.
In 1975, Dr. Fletcher began as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Knoxville, Tennessee. He held that position until 1977 when he accepted the position as the 12th president of Hardin-Simmons University. Dr. Fletcher served as president of HSU from 1977 until 1991, as chancellor from 1991 to 2001, and he has been president emeritus since 2001.
During his 14 years as president at Hardin-Simmons, Dr. Fletcher established and raised the funds to endow schools in education, theology, and nursing. He also made significant changes to the campus; including adding seven new facilities, making numerous renovations to existing buildings, significantly increasing faculty salaries, and quadrupling the university’s endowment. He also led the institution into the NCAA’s Division III athletic programs including football in 1989. During his years as chancellor and president emeritus, Fletcher held a professorship in the Logsdon School of Theology, aided development efforts, and represented the University in numerous academic and community roles.
Beyond his work at Hardin-Simmons, Dr. Fletcher was a key force in organizing the NCAA Division I Trans America Athletic Conference (now the Atlantic Sun Conference). He was also a staple in the community of Abilene; serving as president and campaign director of Abilene’s United Way’s annual campaign, chairman of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce, founding director of the Community Foundation of Abilene, vice chair of the Military Affairs Committee, twice the interim director of the Grace Museum, first president of the Abilene Intercollegiate School of Nursing and chair of the Abilene Psychiatric Center. He was honored as Citizen of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 2002.
Dr. Fletcher was also a prolific writer, publishing eleven books, including Bill Wallace of China, the official sesquicentennial history of the SBC, The Southern Baptist Convention, and his family and personal biography, “Flashes of Light.”
Dr. Fletcher was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Dorothy. He is survived by two children; his son, Scott and his family of Rockport, Maine, and daughter Melissa Fletcher Dupree and her family of Abilene, TX. He is also survived by five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.