A TRIO OF PRESIDENTS
By Tony Cupit: Personal reflection on the lives of a trio of Presidents
• David Griffiths, OAM, 17.4.32 – 25.12.20
• Howard Fearn-Wannan, OAM, Nov 1929 – 25.12.20
• Wilf Poole, 20.12.30 – 31.12.20
The denomination and a number of Baptist congregations give thanks to God for the lives of three recently departed Presidents, David Griffiths, Howard Fearn-Wannan and Wilfred Poole. They died within a week or so of each other, Howard and David on Christmas Day, Wilf shortly after. It may be their faith in God and the fact that they each served us as President of the BUV is a thread that ties them together. Otherwise, they are as different as can be. All were outstanding men.
David Griffiths was a well-known and loved Baptist leader. His early life was well documented by Geoff Pound at the service of celebration of his life, held on January 7 at the Ashburton Church. For any who might want to read a comprehensive account of David’s life, particularly his earlier years, the account is easily accessed on the Ashburton Baptist website. With Kaye’s unswerving love and support, David served the churches at Traralgon, Kingsville, Wangaratta, Crossway (then Blackburn South) and Canterbury. Later he served as interim pastor of a number of congregations. It is probably unwise to suggest one ministry is more important than another, because David served with grace and effectiveness whenever he served as pastor. However, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the remarkable contribution David made as Pastor at Blackburn South. Under his leadership it grew to become one of the largest Baptist congregations in Australia. I recall a conversation I had with David when he resigned from the Canterbury Church to serve as a chaplain to our Baptist Age-Care Homes at Hedley Sutton and Karana. He was eminently qualified for that ministry but as pastor to the churches and ministers I regretted such a great congregational minister was moving out of that role. And all this time David was serving as a chaplain to the Australian Defence Forces in various postings. He literally moved up through the ranks becoming Principal Chaplain to the Army and Chair of the Australian Defence Forces’ prestigious Religious Advisory Committee (REC). Before retirement, David attained the notable rank of brigadier. David was a humble man, self-deprecating—a servant leader. Over the years he was involved in many denominational bodies and was the youngest ever President of the BUV. David was a true friend and, in later years, Margaret and I became very close to Kaye and David. They enriched our lives.
Wilf Poole was a key layman in the denomination and a pillar of strong leadership and practical service at the Shepparton Baptist Church. Wilf and Cynthia worshipped there for most of their lives. Wilf served at various times as Shepparton’s Youth Leader, Secretary, Deacon and Elder. He was a school-teacher by profession who taught in many schools before becoming chaplain at a local high school. Later he joined the staff of the Shepparton Church. Wilf set up the Good News Counselling Centre, a ministry of the Baptist Church. He himself was a skilled counsellor. It was one of the very few counselling services of any kind in the North of the State. After studying Christian counselling on-line at this Centre, some graduates then pursued a counselling ministry in the region. The Good News Counselling Service still operates at Shepparton and has been included under the umbrella of Beacon Community Connections, a social welfare arm of the Shepparton Church. In the days when we appointed Presidents of the BUV, ordained ministers and laypersons took turns to serve as President for 12-month periods. It was because of my country visits when I got to know Wilf and Cynthia that I suggested his name for President. I had to call him where he was vacationing in Edinburgh to ask would he serve. During years of my working with the BUV, as I recall, only Wilf Poole and Stuart Isles from Warrnambool became President of the BUV from rural churches. So, Wilf’s election was not only a good choice, it was timely. Wilf was an enthusiastic, pleasant character, faithful in every way with a deep love for Jesus Christ and for rural churches. Cynthia survives him and is doing well.
Howard Fearn-Wannan had a considerable influence on the denomination and on his local New Hope Baptist Church where he served in many leadership and other roles over a considerable period. Until his election as President, Howard’s considerable talents in church life were especially through his local congregation although he served for 12 years as President of the Strathcona Baptist Girls’ School Council and gave some leadership to denominational bodies, including the Executive Council of the BUV. Helen served for many years as Office Secretary to BUV leaders, notably Kingsley Smith. She survives Howard and is doing well. I worked very closely with Howard preparing for and conducting the State-wide Genesis 80 event for which Howard served as musical director. Howard was not only a very fine musician, with an outstanding singing voice, he was conductor of many choirs over the years and was known for the productions of various Gilbert and Sullivan operettas at the New Hope Church. As President, Howard offered a plan for the churches, Light up your Laser, a series of Bible studies that encouraged Baptists to be the light of Christ in the community—to take faith into the market-place, a theme consistent with Howard’s life-time commitment to social ministries. This was particularly evident through his involvement with Habitat for Humanity, the organization which he helped establish in Australia and to which he gave strong leadership for a considerable time. In recognition of this and for his work with the Baptist Church, Howard was awarded an OAM. In his professional life, Howard was a science educator. Though he maintained a keen interest in science, his research into other areas of life was extensive. Even in his late eighties, Howard was writing very profound and eloquent material on different subjects including a thorough treatment of Christian Ethics.
Writing these brief memorials of Howard, David and Wilf has brought back great memories. Each made indelible impressions on so many people. David was President the year Margaret and I came to live in Victoria after serving with Global Interaction in Papua New Guinea. Wilf and Howard served as President of BUV during my years as Director of Ministries. But the blessing to my life these three friends offered was not just their service as a President but the humility, goodness and faithful Christian discipleship each consistently displayed.