The Beat of a Different Drum

Published 8:19 am Saturday, January 14, 2017

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

   He frequently took jabs at pomp, sparred with circumstance and flat-out deflated folks too full of themselves, determined never to join the group. In all of this and more, he smiled, confidently moored to Christian linchpins that kept him focused on the “main thing being the main thing.”

Dr. Paul Powell was felled by a stroke last month. He was 83. Pews were packed in the chapel of Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler. (It was formerly the sanctuary where he preached more than a thousand sermons and conducted hundreds of funerals and weddings during his 17-year tenure.)

Family members, friends and associates weren’t sure whether the service would be remembered more for proper “funeralizing” or gentle roasting. It may have been–you’ll pardon the expression–a dead heat, and why wouldn’t it? Officiants at the “service” say he planned it all in advance, including participants, hymns, scriptures and obituary photograph. While perusing photograph albums, he even selected the photo he thought best to use with wife Cathy’s obituary up the way.

They say he was “retired,” and they were wrong. This mountain of a man served with distinction in so many different ways, he didn’t know how to “cold turkey” his way out. Instead, he plugged along, preaching when invited, sharing the Gospel and lending mature observations gleaned from a long life of rich experiences as a former pastor of five churches, denominational executive, seminary dean and all-around “Mr. Texas Baptist.”

Somewhere in this piece, his literary efforts should be lauded. He was author of more than 50 books; God Works in Mischievous Ways was published in 2016. The title “nutshells” how Paul “did life.”

He smiled his way through situations of all kinds–serious and humorous. They said he asked longtime friend Russell Dilday, “Have you read my last book?” Paul said Dr. Dilday responded, “Oh, I hope so.”

His keen humor usually was laced with self-deprecation. He claimed he journeyed from “the backwoods of East Texas, to the back alleys of Port Arthur, to the back of the class in school.” Ken Camp, who wrote a detailed obituary, called Dr. Powell “the always quotable.”

Powell’s wife of 62 years–and throngs of others across the years–wondered what he would say next, particularly at banquets. One evening, a banquet host expressed regret that Mrs. Powell was unable to attend. “Oh, she’s here,” Paul assured. “Cathy is still in the car, applying lipstick…preparing her body for viewing.”

Tributes poured in from the greats, near greats and “ordinaries” throughout the nation. (He would have included himself among the latter.) Dr. Bill Pinson’s tribute summed it up: “He was unapologetically Baptist in his beliefs and at the same time an unashamed member of the larger Christian family of faith….a Baptist statesman who remained a down-to-earth, approachable servant leader.”

Noted for his courage kept close at hand, Dr. Powell is remembered for his response to critics of investment policies when he was President and CEO of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annuity Board. In his 1994 annual report, he stated: “Since we are in the home of Disney World, I need to tell you that the Annuity Board is not a ‘Mickey Mouse’ operation, and it is not being run by Goofy and his friends.”

He mentored hundreds of young ministers. They, and their elders, will long share Paul Powell stories, both hither and yon. When they gather, they’d best be prepared to “sit a spell.” Dr. Powell was one-of-a-kind, and a description the late colorful sportswriter Blackie Sherrod once wrote of a long-ago friend likewise “fits” Paul Powell: “Before God made him, He broke the mold.”

The hem-of-the-garment service spanned some 50 minutes. Smiling, Paul might have concluded, “As per instructions, they kept it under an hour.”


Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: