Today the Hardin-Simmons family has lost one of its most
distinguished and well-loved members, former President Dr. Jesse C. Fletcher,
87, passed from this life after battling a long illness.
A memorial service celebrating Dr. Fletcher's life was held in the main sanctuary at First Baptist Church on Monday, June 18th at 2:00 p.m. First Baptist Church, Abilene
For family and friends that were unable to attend Dr. Fletcher's memorial service, a video recording of the service is now available online.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that gifts be made to the university to the Dr. Jesse C. Fletcher scholarship.
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
Former President W. 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, Texas 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
Dr. Fletcher then attended Texas A&M University, where
he distinguished himself as a lieutenant colonel in the Corps of Cadets, an
honor student and twice lettered with the golf team. He was ordained as a
minister by Manor Baptist Church of San Antonio during his senior year at Texas
A& M University.
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 masters 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
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. He also started the program Journeyman, an effort to bring more young people to the mission field.
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
Dr. Fletcher served as president of HSU from 1977 until
1991, as chancellor from 1991 to 2001, and he has been president emeritus since
During his fourteen 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.
In 1997, Dr. Fletcher began painting landscapes at the studio
of celebrated local artist Evelyn Niblo.
His paintings have been shown in Abilene at the Grace Museum, the Center
for Contemporary Arts, St. John’s School and American State Bank. His work has also been exhibited in the
Breckenridge Fine Arts Museum in Breckenridge, Texas. Many of his vibrant representations of land
are in the hands of corporate and private collectors.
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.