Alma Hunt died Saturday night at age 98. The longtime Woman’s Missionary Union leader was considered a great friend to missionaries and an advocate for racial and gender equality.
Her successor, Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler, once described Ms. Hunt as “a dominant force for missions and women” who was “never afraid to take a stand for what is right.”
More deserving tributes will follow. But here is the obituary provided by her family.
Obituary released June 15, 2008 by her nephew, W.D. Roe Jr., Roanoke, VA:
Alma Hunt, an icon in Baptist missions worldwide, died Saturday evening June 14, 2008 in Roanoke, VA. She was 98 years old. Few Baptist mission leaders have been as widely known and beloved in their own lifetimes.
Funeral services will be held at Rosalind Hills Baptist Church in Roanoke on Wednesday, June 18 at 10:00 A.M EDT. Burial will follow the service at the family plot at Evergreen Cemetery, Roanoke. Visitation will be held the previous evening, Tuesday June 17 from 7:00 P.M. until 9:00 P.M. EDT at Oakey’s Roanoke Chapel on Church Avenue S.W.
Miss Hunt is a Roanoke native who touched lives through service in 93 countries. Since returning to Roanoke in 1985, she continued until recent months to encourage all Christians to share Jesus Christ globally.
The Alma Hunt Offering for Virginia Missions was named in her honor in 1998 by the Virginia Woman’s Missionary Union and Baptist General Association of Virginia. Since then, nearly $10 million has been given through this annual offering for Christian ministries throughout Virginia and the world.
John V. Upton, executive director for Virginia Baptists, said “Because of her example and faithfulness, Virginia Baptists will always remember her. She has heralded the cause of missions straight from her heart. When Virginia Baptists were shaping a new vision for the 21st Century, she was its first champion. She has been a bold and influential leader not only for women, but also for all Baptists around the world and especially for Virginia Baptists.”
Miss Hunt was born October 5, 1909. Biographers have attributed her accomplishments to a strong supportive family in Roanoke, and to her nurture by First Baptist Church in Roanoke. She was groomed for leadership by pastors such as Dr. Walter Pope Binns and Mrs. Binns. She was active in the church and citywide Young Woman’s Auxiliary, a branch of the Woman’s Missionary Union.
In 1931, she attended her first national-level Baptist conference, at Ridgecrest, North Carolina. From then on her talents as a promoter of missions were in demand by national leaders among Baptists. Her wider ministry began as an unpaid recreation leader and speaker for WMU conferences.
She attended Longwood College, but the Great Depression brought her home early to begin a school teaching career in Roanoke. At age 19 she took her first class of 52 students at Clearbrook School. Soon she was named principal of the school. In 1931, she and another teacher began the Grandin Court School in Roanoke. She served as a primary teacher or principal in Roanoke schools until 1944.
She resumed her own studies at Longwood College, graduating in 1941. She earned a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York, specializing in the new field of student personnel administration. In later years she received doctorates from William Jewell College and from University of Richmond.
She left Roanoke in 1944 to become dean of women at William Jewell College in Missouri. Studies toward a doctorate at Columbia University halted in 1948, when she was elected executive secretary of the Southern Baptist Woman’s Missionary Union. She moved to Birmingham, AL where its offices were located, and she became an active member of Southside Baptist Church.
Under her leadership, Woman’s Missionary Union of the SBC grew to its all-time high membership of more than 1.5 million. WMU sponsored its first nationwide conventions for girls. She wrote the widely studied book, History of Woman’s Missionary Union, in connection with the 75th anniversary of WMU. She supervised a staff of more than 100 and a multi-million dollar budget. WMU’s publishing business expanded with periodical circulation of one million.
She led WMU to active support of formation of the Women’s Department of the Baptist World Alliance, which took form during her first year as WMU executive secretary. She was a founder of the North American Baptist Women’s Union, a branch of the Baptist World Alliance which began with 14 different Baptist denominations. She served as president of NABWU from 1964 to 1967. In 1970-1975, she was vice-president of the Baptist World Alliance.
She was a board member of the American Bible Society and was active with the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs.
Her first retirement came in 1974, at age 65. She had served professionally with salary as a missions executive for 26 years. Now she would begin an even longer term of service, 34 years, as an unpaid volunteer.
From 1976 until 1985, she lived in Richmond, VA. She served without salary on the staff of the Foreign Mission Board (now known as International Mission Board). From 1976 through 1979, she had the unique task of being consultant on women’s mission work around the world. She visited 45 countries to help women to organize, to establish mission-sending programs, and to encourage mission workers. In the USA she maintained a full schedule of speaking, traveling, and writing in behalf of missions.
In 1985 she returned to Roanoke to care for her mother and to enjoy her nephew and nieces. She lived at Sotheby Square. She wrote a book of stories from her international experiences, entitled Reflections from Alma Hunt. She co-authored Leadership Legacies. She maintained a growing schedule of speaking about mission work to churches and conferences.
By this time, she had no official title, but she selectively used her influence to shape new and growing forms of mission participation. Baptists kept her in the spotlight as a dynamic example of Christian living and aging.
In 1985, the Woman’s Missionary Union of Virginia built Hunt Hall in her honor at CrossRoads Camp and Conference Center. In 1984-1985, Virginia WMU also contributed funds for construction of the Hunt Library and Archives at the headquarters building of Woman’s Missionary Union, SBC in Birmingham, AL. Later WMU, SBC created the Alma Hunt Museum as a missions education display concerning her life and her historical collections.
She has been an active member of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, which also has an Alma Hunt archival collection.
In the 1990s Miss Hunt spoke up in support of new forms of cooperation in missions. In 1995 at the 150th anniversary of the Southern Baptist Convention, she was the one woman among denominational statesmen chosen to bring historical addresses. At this time, she said, “Missions is what makes me get up in the morning.”
In 1997 she was named an “Honorary Emeritus Missionary” of the International Mission Board. Also in 1997, Alma Hunt Cottage was built in Salem, VA as part of the developmental disabilities ministry of Hope Tree Family Services (formerly known as Virginia Baptist Children’s Home). She became a frequent visitor and encourager of the residents.
She was an active supporter and board member of the Rescue Mission in Roanoke (Roanoke Valley Mission Cen
ters). She was named to their emeritus board of directors.
The Alma Hunt Theological Library was created in her honor at the John Leland Center for Theological studies in Arlington, VA, in 1999.
In 2001, she was a founder of Global Women.
In that same year, she received the first Jeter Award from the directors of Virginia’s Religious Herald newsjournal in recognition of denominational service. In 2002, she was inducted into the Mainstream Baptist Network Hall of Fame.
In 2004, she was given the Judson-Rice Award by Baptists Today news journal, headquartered in Georgia. The award recognizes “a current Baptist leader who has demonstrated important leadership while maintaining the highest integrity.”
In 2003, she transferred her membership to Rosalind Hills Baptist Church in Roanoke. In January 2007, Rosalind Hills Church notified her that it had decided to ordain her as a minister of the gospel. The pastor, Tom Stocks, said that Hunt’s ordination came about “75 years late. Our people wanted her to know that we appreciate the way she ministers to us and to people around the world. The idea of a special blessing for Alma and her great ministry arose from the grassroots of our congregation,” Stocks said.
She was listed in the first edition of Who’s Who of American Women, (1953) and she was also listed in Who’s Who in America. Her archival collections may be found Virginia Baptist Historical Society in Richmond, VA and at Hunt Archives of Woman’s Missionary Union in Birmingham, AL.
Miss Hunt was the daughter of Myrtle Wertz Hunt and William Otis Hunt. Her grandparents were apple farmers in Poage’s Mill and Bent Mountain area near Roanoke. Her first international awareness was Grandpa Hunt’s shipping apples for sale in England. Her younger siblings and their spouses, who lived out their lives in Roanoke, were William Otis Hunt Jr., with his wife Anna; and Louise Hunt, who married William Dickinson Roe.
She is survived by her nephew, William Dickinson Roe Jr. and his wife Nene of Roanoke, and her niece Mary Anna Hunt of Indianapolis, IN.
Great-nieces and nephew are: Christian Griggs of Atlanta, with wife Bridget and sons Robert and Sean; Stephanie Sawyer of Indianapolis with son Will and daughter Annabelle; Jane Hunt Griggs of Grass Valley, CA with daughter Bella and son Phaedon; Dabney Griggs and son Ayalyte of Grass Valley, CA; Ashley Roe Gilreath of Manteo, NC with husband Jim and sons James and Reid; Amy Carder Roe of Denver, CO; and Catherine Roe Gilreath of Roanoke with husband Fred and daughter Caroline.