Dr. O. S. Hawkins is currently President and Chief Executive Officer of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, a position he has held since 1997. GuideStone provides financial and retirement benefits for the many ministers of the SBC, and is the largest Christian based mutual fund in the world with funds exceeding 13 billion dollars. Dr. Hawkins has distinguished himself in his position by providing excellent leadership skills combined with loving, compassionate financial advice for tens of thousands of ministers and their families. Dr. Hawkins has not spent all of his professional life in administrative work. The early part and perhaps the most productive and personally rewarding part of his ministry life was as pastor of various churches, both small and very large.
I first heard of Dr. Hawkins when he was the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Cathy’s Mom (Gram Young) and her Dad (Granddaddy Young) were from families who were pioneer settlers of that beautiful and famous south Florida city. Gram Young served the city as a member of the City Commission during the years of 1971-1985 and was either Mayor, Vice Mayor or Mayor Pro Tem during those years. Following her service as City Commissioner, she was appointed to the Downtown Development Authority, a position she held from 1986 to 1993.
She and Dr. Hawkins became good friends despite the fact Gram and Granddaddy Young had been active members of Park Temple Methodist Church for years. Gram and Dr. Hawkins had breakfast together with several other prominent men every Sunday morning at the Riverside Hotel, a landmark hotel which was constructed in 1936 on East Las Olas Boulevard by the Young Construction Company. In the early 1980’s Cathy and I had visited First Baptist Church to hear Dr. Hawkins preach on two separate occasions while visiting her parents but never had the privilege of meeting him.
In June 1985 while serving as a deacon at First Baptist Church in El Dorado, I decided to attend the annual Southern Baptist Convention held that year in Dallas, Texas. It was to be a watershed year in terms of the struggle for leadership between the moderates and conservatives of the convention, and approximately 45,000 delegates (messengers) were signed to attend. Cathy was not able to go with me because her parents were in El Dorado visiting with their grandchildren. Our pastor, Dr. Mark Coppenger was in attendance with his wife Sharon, and we were the 3 messengers from our church.
Dr. Hawkins was President of the Pastor’s Conference that year, and all speakers of that preliminary conference were strong conservatives, advocating a return to conservative leadership. Brother Mark and I were attending the final portion of the Pastor’s Conference on Monday morning, and when it was over, we wanted to make our way to the front of the auditorium to meet Dr. Hawkins. There were at least 200 people ahead of us, and we decided to forego meeting him at that time. I jokingly said (and perhaps a little haughtily), “I’m not worried. Before the day is over, Dr. Hawkins will come up and ask to meet me!!” Mark left to have lunch with his wife, and I milled around the convention center to just experience such a historic meeting. I had conversations with several messengers and asked them questions about their beliefs concerning the direction of the convention and how they might vote. The majority of people I polled were conservatives.
I noticed a small crowd gathering down near the street, and it appeared someone had fallen so I approached. An older woman had made a misstep off the curb and had fallen in an awkward manner. She could not stand, and after a brief exam I was certain she had fractured her hip. I asked someone to summon an ambulance and stayed with her to bring her some comfort as a physician. As the ambulance approached, she asked me to send a message to her pastor who was there from Wichita Falls, so he could contact her family where the ambulance was taking her.
I went directly to the Press Room to have her pastor notified by a message which would appear on the screens in the main conference room. There were about 20-25 people in that bustling room, but I was standing next to a middle-aged man with the name on his official name tag: “Whiddon—Florida”. I asked, ” Excuse me, are you Gene Whiddon from Fort Lauderdale?” He was shocked I would know his name and said, “Yes I am. Do I know you?” I said, “No, but you are good friends with my mother in law, Virginia Young.” I heard her talk often about Gene Whiddon who was President of Causeway Lumber Company with whom they had done business for many years. Gene said, “I know you are from Arkansas because I talked with Virginia just this morning, and she said they were there visiting.” Gene then said he was in the Press Room with his pastor who was scheduled for a press interview. “Is your pastor O.S. Hawkins?” I asked. “He sure is. Would you like for me to introduce you?” He brought Dr. Hawkins over and I finally met him. We had a wonderful conversation about Gram Young and all the good things she had done and was doing for the city of Fort Lauderdale. I thought to myself, “I can’t wait to tell Dr. Coppenger about all of this!!”
In my responsibility now as a member of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, I get to fellowship with Dr. Hawkins whenever we meet, and have introduced Cathy to him. He is always gracious and kind to us, and we remind him of the impact he once had on our beloved Gram Young. We never could get her to consider switching their membership from Park Temple Methodist to First Baptist because she said, “His preaching and invitations are too long.” She might have been right, but Dr. Hawkins not only impacted her for Christ, but countless others in Fort Lauderdale and every other place he has served. I thank God for such a servant leader!