J. D. Grey

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James David "J. D." Grey

(Pastor, First Baptist Church of New Orleans, 1937-1972)

James David Grey.JPG

Born December 18, 1906
Princeton, Caldwell County, Kentucky
Died July 26, 1985
New Orleans, Louisiana
Political Party Democrat
Spouse Lilliam Tooke Grey (married 1927-1985, his death)
Religion Southern Baptist

James David Grey, sometimes known as J. D. Grey (December 18, 1906 – July 26, 1985), a major figure in the Southern Baptist Convention, was from 1937 to 1972 the pastor of the First Baptist Church of New Orleans, Louisiana.[1]


A native of Princeton in Caldwell County in western Kentucky, Grey was reared in Paducah, a city in McCracken County, also in western Kentucky at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers. In 1925, Grey received his diploma from Tilghman High School in Paducah. That same year, he was ordained to preach by the Immanuel Baptist Church in Paducah. In 1959, years after he had left Paducah, the city mayor named him an honorary "Duke of Paducah". In 1929, he graduated from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. In 1932, he received the Master of Theology degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.[2][3]

While he attended Southwestern Seminary, Grey was the pastor from 1929 to 1931 of the Vickery Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, from 1931 to 1934, he was the pastor of Tabernacle Baptist Church in Ennis in Ellis County, south of Dallas. Both of those congregations are still active.[2]


In 1934, Grey accepted the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Denton, Texas, but left, effective May 31, 1937, for his final pastorate at the First Baptist Church in New Orleans, which extended for thirty-five years until his retirement on December 31, 1972.[2] During that time, the congregation nearly tripled and annual contributions increased from $26,000 to more than $650,000.[4]

From 1949 to 1950, Grey was the president of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, the headquarters of which are based in Alexandria in central Louisiana. Grey was also a board member of Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College in Pineville, which in 1952 awarded him an honorary doctorate.[5] In 1952 and 1953, he was elected the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, based in Nashville, Tennessee. At forty-four, he was the youngest person ever elected to the SBC presidency. From 1950 to 1970, he was a member of the Baptist World Alliance. In 1954, he was the chairman of Billy Graham's four-week Evangelistic Crusade at Pelican Stadium. In 1957, he was the president of the Greater New Orleans Federation of Churches.[2]

Relations with politicians

In 1957, Grey was asked to nominate for the Southern Baptist Convention presidency Brooks Hays, a liberal U.S. representative from Little Rock, Arkansas, who subsequently lost a Democratic gubernatorial primary election in 1966. At the time Hays was the chairman of the Christian Life Commission, a liberal group advocating peaceful relations among the races within the Christian community. Grey declined to make the nomination on the grounds that he should not use his influence as a two-term past president of the convention to promote a particular candidate. Nevertheless, Hays was elected as the convention president for a single term that year.[6]

Among the politicians who admired Grey was the colorful and controversial Louisiana Governor Earl Kemp Long, who retorted, "Everybody's bragging about this Billy Graham. Hell! He can't preach nothing [sic] like J. D. Grey. I had rather hear him preach than any [other] man I've ever heard."[7]

In 1963-1964, Grey became involved in the Louisiana Democratic gubernatorial election on behalf of an erstwhile rival of Long's, the former New Orleans Mayor deLesseps Story "Chep" Morrison, Sr., who had resigned as United States Ambassador to the Organization of American States under U.S. President John F. Kennedy, to make his third unsuccessful bid for the state's highest office. At the time, Morrison, a Roman Catholic, faced a Democratic runoff election with John J. McKeithen, a Methodist from Columbia in north Louisiana and a member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission. In a newspaper advertisement, Grey wrote:

You made us a marvelous mayor. I moved to New Orleans in 1937 and know what the city was before you took office [in 1946]. You gave New Orleans its start toward the great, progressive, industrial world city we have today. I saw you restore City Hall to a place of dignity, integrity, and respect. You gave your active support to every worthy move to improve the civic, business, social, cultural, and spiritual life of an entire community.[8]

Grey's biographers note that "on occasion, J. D. raked his friend [Morrison] over the coals in matter political and controversial. His influence was effective on many issues. By the same token, the mayor could respond to J. D. as a friend when he offered ... the keys to the city to a young Billy Graham in his first crusade..." in New Orleans.[9]

In 1968 and 1969, Grey was the president and board member of the New Orleans Metropolitan Crime Commission under Morrison's successor, Democratic Mayor Victor Hugo Schiro (1904-1992).[2]

Community activities

Grey was a founding member in 1942 and thereafter the president in 1956 of the conservative interest group, the Louisiana Moral and Civic Foundation. He was a member of the committee which coordinated the 250th anniversary celebration of the founding of New Orleans held in 1968. He was a board member of the "good government" group known as the Council for a Better Louisiana and the children's advocacy group, Big Brothers of New Orleans.[10] He was also a life member of the advisory board of the Salvation Army in New Orleans, vice-chairman of the Louisiana State Board of Corrections, and a board member of the Association for Retarded Children, the American Red Cross, and the Boy Scouts of America. He was active for three decades in Kiwanis International.[2] In 1984, long after he had retired as a pastor, Grey was an advisor for the New Orleans World's Fair Crusade held at the Rivergate.[10]

For his community service, Grey in 1971 received the "Loving Cup" from the New Orleans Times-Picayune. In 1969, the unconventional biography entitled St. J. D. was written by Robert L. Lee, then the executive-secretary of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and James F. Cole, then the editor of the state newspaper, The Baptist Message. Grey was listed in Who's Who in America., Who's Who in the South and Southwest, Who's Who in Religion and Outstanding Civic Leaders of America.[2] In 1972, Grey penned Epitaphs for Eager Preachers.[11]

Family and death

Grey and his wife, the former Lillian Tooke, whom he married in 1927, had twin daughters born in 1941, Martha Ann Cantrell and her husband, Richard, and Mary Beth Burg and husband, Jules L. Burg, Jr. (1923-2011).[12] There are three Grey grandsons, Bryant Curtis Cantrell, Patrick Grey Cantrell, and Joe David Burg.[2]

Grey died at the age of seventy-eight of a lengthy illness in Baptist Hospital in New Orleans.[4] He is interred in Metairie in Jefferson Parish, across the Mississippi River from New Orleans.[10][13]

The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary honors Grey with its J. D. Grey Chair of Preaching and its annual J. D. Grey Preaching Award. In 2011, the recipient of both designations was Dennis Phelps of Elizabethtown, Kentucky.[14]

Grey's papers are housed at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, Tennessee.[5]

G. Earl Guinn (1912-2004), the president of Louisiana College from 1951 to 1975, said of his friend: "I feel toward J. D. Grey about like Winston Churchill felt toward his friend, the first F. E. Smith, 1st Earl of Birkenhead. ... I would rather have J. D. Grey at my side, cataracts, arthritis, and all, than 99 percent of the people in all of the world."[15]


  1. First Baptist New Orleans: Our History. fbno.org. Retrieved on July 5, 2012.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 James Cole and Robert L. Lee, Saint J. D. (Waco, Texas: Word Publishers, 1969), p. 159-163
  3. Rev. J. D. Grey. The New York Times, July 29, 1985. Retrieved on July 5, 2012.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Rev. J. D. Grey, 77. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved on July 5, 2012.
  5. 5.0 5.1 J. D. Grey Papers. sbhla.org. Retrieved on July 5, 2012.
  6. James Thomas Baker, Brooks Hays, pp. 114-115. Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, (1989). Retrieved on July 9, 2012. 
  7. Cole and Lee, Saint J. D., p. 127.
  8. Minden Herald, January 2, 1964, p. 6
  9. Cole and Lee, St. J. D., p. 127
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Rev. J. D. Grey. genforum.genealogy.com. Retrieved on July 4, 2012.
  11. Epitaphs for Eager Preachers. Broadman Press. Retrieved on July 5, 2012. 
  12. Jules L. Burg, Jr., September 2, 2011. obits.dignitymemorial.com. Retrieved on July 3, 2012.
  13. The cemetery in Metairie where Grey is interred is unidentified.
  14. Phelps receives annual J. D. Grey Preaching Award. nobts.edu. Retrieved on July 4, 2012.
  15. Cole and Lee, St. J. D., p. 41.