If James McKenzie Baird, Jr., was delivering his obituary, that is how he would begin. Many will recognize the familiar opening to his sermons, and the powerful voice that helped lead friends and family to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jim went to be with his Heavenly Father on January 31, at age 91. He lived a remarkable life, marked with service, humility and a sense of purpose.
Born in 1928 to Scottish immigrant parents in New Jersey, his family moved to Chicago when he was 10. Following high school graduation, Jim traveled south to Maryville College in Tennessee to play football. It was there that he met the love of his life, Jane McMillan, on a blind date. A Southern belle from North Georgia, Jane remarked that it was the first time she had ever seen a young man in an overcoat. After college, Jim was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the infantry branch of the U.S. Army, where he served during the Korean War. In 1952 he married Jane and began work for the New York Life Insurance Company.
At the age of 28, Jim became a Christian and was called to his life’s work of full-time ministry. In 1957, he graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia. Jim’s ministry spanned almost 40 years in Presbyterian churches across the Southeast: he shepherded congregations in Clinton, MS, Brewton, AL, Gadsden, AL, Macon, GA, and Coral Gables, FL, before retiring after 12 years as the Senior Minister of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS, in 1995. He was a “Preacher of the People,” with a ministry accentuated by personal relationships and his anecdotal teaching.
He was a Founding Father of his beloved denomination, The Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), founded in 1973. He served as the 12th moderator of the PCA. He was gifted with a clear vision and a strong work ethic, and even after retirement he was an able preacher of the Word. He continued to spread the Gospel – in homes, in churches, and at Bible, mission and marriage conferences across the world – and in one year alone, at the age of 75, he delivered over 100 sermons throughout the North American continent. Dr. Baird preached his last homily at age 91 at The Orchard, a retirement home where he shared monthly duties for the last five years.
Jim believed in the importance of Christian education. During his ministry, he was involved in Christian schools in Gadsden, AL, Macon, GA, and Jackson, MS – and we’re sure many will remember his Sunday night “children’s sermons” and the humorous stick figures that accompanied them. Dr. Baird also served on the board of Reformed Theological Seminary, Belhaven University and African Bible Colleges. Additionally, he worked closely with pastors and laymen to help form Mission Mississippi, an organization formed to encourage and demonstrate grace in the Body of Christ across racial lines.
He and his beloved wife Jane loved to travel the world, especially after retirement, and were purposeful in encouraging missionaries and pastors along the way. They visited six continents, and never left a country without sending a postcard to the family back home. His greatest earthly joy, next to his relationship with the Lord, was his marriage and his family.
He leaves his adored wife of 67 years, Jane, and their four sons, Jim Baird III (Susan), Knox Baird (Debra), David Baird (Pat) and Mark Baird (Rhonda); and his 11 grandchildren Megan, Andrew (Anna), and Grayson Baird; Alexandria, Knox and Hannah Jane Baird; Grace and Mac Baird; Macey B. Benton (Matt), Betsy B. Gardner (Seth), and Richard Baird. He was preceded in death by his parents, James and Christina Baird, his older sister, Ina Arnold, and his infant son Daniel.
Family gatherings were always a reason to thank God for His Son, for Jim’s beloved America, and for his family. The Baird clan will especially remember his legacy of rich storytelling, his devotion to and admiration for his wife, and his leave-taking of them in their adult lives: “I’m proud of you, girl,” or “I’m proud of you, son,” would carry them for days. “Papa Jim” will be remembered as a man of great integrity – as well as for his homemade birthday and Valentine’s cards, the love of his New York Yankees, his prowess on the golf course, his weakness for ice cream, and particularly for his favorite benediction: (Jude 1:24-25) “Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling, to Him who is able, at your death, to present you blameless before His throne of grace with exceeding great joy. To the only wise God, our Savior, let there be glory, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever more. AMEN.”
A private family burial will be followed by a Memorial Service at 6:00 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS, on Tuesday, February 4. There will be no formal visitation. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be sent to African Bible Colleges, Belhaven University, French Camp Academy and Reformed Theological Seminary. “Well done, Good and Faithful Servant.”