Former WMU president Christine Gregory dies - Word&Way

Former WMU president Christine Gregory dies

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Christine Gregory, national Woman's Missionary Union president from 1975–1981, died Jan. 22, in Danville, Va. She was 89.

She served on the 1980s Southern Baptist Peace Committee that studied the controversy between conservatives and moderates. She also served as vice president of the Baptist World Alliance and as first vice president of the SBC.

"Christine was always a source of encouragement and support for the work of WMU both past and present, as well as to me personally as I have visited and communicated with her throughout my years of service," said Wanda S. Lee, executive director/treasurer of national WMU. "WMU has been blessed throughout its history with strong, missions-focused national leaders. Christine was no exception as she followed in that path, leading WMU through times of expansion. She leaves a great legacy for today's leaders in WMU to follow."

As WMU president, Gregory served alongside Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler, executive secretary of national WMU (1974–1989).

"She became my best friend," Crumpler said. "We traveled to so many places … she was so down-to-earth, comfortable with all people, and always ready to make them feel comfortable with her. Christine's husband and sons were never neglected as she traveled. She was an example to all women, and we are grateful for her life and ministry."

Crumpler described her friendship with Gregory and her many contributions to WMU as "a blessing."

"She led with a positive approach, and faced any opposition that came her way with determination and a smile," Crumpler added.

Born to Willis L. Burton and Bessie Hollingsworth on Apr. 15, 1921, Christine Burton (Gregory) described herself as plain, even ordinary. But what others noted was her extraordinary devotion to missions.

In her childhood home of Greenville, S.C., Gregory enjoyed piano and voice lessons, but she also witnessed her family give to those in need. She grew up observing her mother setting aside money in a sugar bowl for missionary offerings, carrying food in a basket to the needy in their community, and reading Royal Service (now Missions Mosaic) magazine for missions involvement.

On her 12th birthday, her father gave her a Bible. Later, while attending Girls' Auxiliary (now Girls in Action) at church, she wrote in her Bible that she was "committed to doing whatever God wished about service in missions" — a commitment she honored.

When Gregory went off to Winthrop College in Rock Hill, S.C., she became president of the school's Baptist Student Union. After college, she worked as a teacher in Cowpens, S.C., for one year, and following that, became promotional secretary for First Baptist Church of Greer, S.C. Her responsibilities included maintaining the financial records of the church, the educational program and the youth program.

For four years she taught seventh grade at Greenville Junior High, and on Aug. 20, 1948, she married Clemson graduate A. Harrison Gregory when he returned from World War II. The couple moved to Danville, Va., where Gregory's husband had accepted a position at the Dan River textile company.

At age 38 with three young sons, she became WMU president of First Baptist, Danville. In 1961, she became associational WMU director, and in 1968, she served as missions action chairman for Virginia. When the then mother of teenagers became concerned that she was doing too much, her husband reassured her. With that extra boost, it was not long before Gregory was elected as president of Virginia WMU, and therefore served on the executive board of national WMU (1971–1975).

Gregory was elected as president of national WMU and served from 1975–1981. During her tenure, she not only maintained her focus on order and organization, but she also selected missionaries and leaders who would provide a variety of perspectives for the WMU organization and publications.

After she retired, she was elected as first vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the first woman to hold that particular office, and the third woman ever to hold a convention office, according to WMU. In 1982, she was nominated to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary's board of trustees and also became adviser to Averett College in Danville. The school had awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1976.

From 1981–1983, she served on the SBC Annuity Board to help study its church pension plan. She described her service on this committee as a "most significant" opportunity because the board was able to provide secretarial and janitorial workers in churches with fair pensions. Also in 1983, she was awarded another honorary doctorate, but this time by the University of Richmond.

In 1987, Gregory authored the book "I Can Be a Mirror: My Role in Mission Action and Personal Witnessing." She was an active member of First Baptist Church in Danville until her death.

Gregory was preceded in death by her husband and is survived by three sons: Harrison Burton Gregory of Marietta, Ga.; Eugene Allen Gregory of Casonova, Va.; and Joel Patrick Gregory of Danville, Va.