Celebration Planned for Mandarin Preacher's 100th Birthday; Robert Witty Continues to Teach a Bible Study Class

Article excerpt

Byline: dan scanlan

He has been preaching the word for 83 of his 100 years, starting elsewhere in Florida before coming to Jacksonville to stay in 1933.

In those decades, Robert Witty has been a pastor, preacher and founder, as well as a student.

Well after most folks enjoy their retirement years, he continued to preach around the world in person and via his books and Web site. And even after a stroke that affected his hearing, Witty continues to teach a men's Bible class at Mandarin Baptist Church at 11244 San Jose Blvd. and partake in other activities at Westminster Woods in Fruit Cove.

So two days after Witty's 100th birthday, church leaders will hold a special service and luncheon Sunday to honor the man and his outreach.

There will be a worship service to honor him, and a song that has been put to music from a poem Witty wrote will be played, said Mandarin Baptist Church senior pastor Bill Yeldell.

"He started serving the Lord at age 17. Do the math. I am intimidated by him sometimes when I think of what he has learned. He's probably forgotten more than I learned."

Witty was pleased at the celebration, saying "thank you" to all who planned it. And Pat Hoover, his daughter-in-law and former secretary, said it is an honor he is looking forward to - with modesty.

"He has always said and told the family that he planned to live to be 100, but he doesn't say very much [about the celebration]. He just does a big smile when we talk about it," she said.

Witty was born in Glascow, Ky., in 1906. Higher education included Willmette University in the 1920s, plus the Kimball School of Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary, Garrett Biblical Institute, Asbury Theological Seminary and Burton College.

He came to Jacksonville in 1932 and was pastor at churches like Livingston Methodist, Central Baptist and Faith Temple before commuting to the University of Florida from 1954 to 1959 to receive his doctorate.

In 1961, Witty decided the city needed a Southern Baptist seminary and proposed one. The Luther Rice Seminary opened in 1962, with Witty chairman of the school, then its first full-time president in 1970. Witty retired as president in 1982, but stayed on as chancellor until 1987.

Author John W. Cowart met Witty as a child, then again when he enrolled at Luther Rice in the 1970s. …