Born in small-town America to a family of simple means, Beverly Gray Allison survived the depression and a World War and went on to found and lead as president a theological seminary with graduates serving all over the world. While the word great is oft overused of those who have gone on, Gray Allison’s legacy will be multicultural as it is multifaceted. His passion for missions and evangelism touched the world.
Called Boo by his family (because his older brother Phil pronounced Baby Brother as “Boo Budder”), Gray grew up in a loving home where faith in the Lord was a centerpiece of family life. The death of his father when Gray was 18 was a tragic introduction to manhood and came at the brink of his entrance into the maelstrom of World War II. He soon found himself as the 19-year-old crew commander in a B-24 bomber and headed to war in the Pacific, where he flew 16 combat missions. Gray was awarded the Air Medal, among other awards, for bravery in combat.
Returning home after the war to his sweetheart Voncille, he married and started a career and a family. During the war from New Guinea through the Philippines Campaign, Gray had a growing sense of urgency that the Lord was calling him into the ministry. Finally surrendering to the call to preach he enrolled in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in his home state of Louisiana.
One of the great influences on his life was the school’s president, Roland Q. Leavell. Dr. Leavell was not only the president of the seminary but also he served as the school’s professor or evangelism. Leavell’s passion for personal soulwinning became Gray Allison’s passion and practice the rest of his life. Gray embraced the life of a scholar but he never let that dull his focus on evangelism. In a time-crunch because of leading the schools evangelism training program and his preaching schedule, Allison wrote his doctoral dissertation in one week. Asked about this amazing feat later he stated that he knew what he wanted to say and had already done the research, he just needed time to write it down. One of the professors who commended the excellence of his dissertation was Dr. Roy Beaman, who would later help Gray found Mid-America Seminary.
Now officially Dr. B. Gray Allison, he would be known as “Dr. Gray” by friends and associates because several of his siblings earned doctorates through the years. He served on faculty his alma mater and later left to join the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention promoting and teaching evangelism. Ultimately he followed his passion and became a full-time vocational evangelist.
Dr. Gray loved his denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, but became increasingly concerned about the increasing theological liberalism in the seminaries. In the 1960s he began to meet with friends to pray that the Lord would raise up the right kind of seminary where the truthfulness of the Bible was taught and where the priority of missions and evangelism were practiced. In the 1972 Dr. Gray started Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, became the school’s founding president and the first professor of evangelism. For over forty years students would sit in class under the spell of his steel blue eyes and hear him one heart-gripping word . . . “Lost.” Dr. Gray lived by the mantra that evangelism was more caught than taught and he passed on the fire. A lost and dying world desperately needed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
As a leader of a conservative, Bible-believing seminary Gray experienced the distancing of friends who wanted no part of controversy and the rejection by many in the leadership of the denomination he so loved. He always wanted to be known by what he was ‘for” more than what he was “against,” so he persevered and stayed positive.
Gray Allison was a surprisingly introverted man to have preached all over the world. He counseled with many, taught thousands in the classroom, and witnessed to all who would listen. He once said that all he wanted on his tombstone were the words “Baptist Preacher” and “US Air Force Pilot.”
Perhaps the best summary of his life comes from an observer on a hot, southern summer day. It was at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June and the morning session ended. Thousands of preachers and denominational leaders streamed out of the convention center rushing to get something to eat before the afternoon session resumed. On the street corner amidst the rushing crowd was a man in a nice suit sitting on the curb by the street. My eyes were drawn to him and I saw that he was talking with a man who had obviously fallen on hard times. I recognized the man in the suit as a seminary president, Gray Allison. He had taken out a pocket New Testament and was witnessing to the man, ignoring the crush of the bystanders. Gray was more interested in sharing the Gospel with this poor lost soul than whatever comfort the noon meal could provide.
The words of the Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary Alma Mater were penned by Dr. Gray (and the music written by his wife Voncille). Alumni have sung this on every continent (with the possible exception of Antartica).
Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary Alma Mater
by Gray Allison/Voncille Allison
To all the world for Jesus’ sake, Where bodies hurt and sad hearts ache;
Lift high the cross, His Love proclaim; Mid-America bear His name.
His kingdom is coming, O loud let it ring;
His kingdom is coming, Be joyful and sing.
Life high the cross, His love proclaim;
Mid-America bear His name.
That in all things He might have the preeminence. Colossians 1:18