7:00 A.M. EST April 22, 2010 |
John Procter, former president and publisher of the United Methodist
Publishing House. A UMNS file photo.
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John Procter, 91, former president and publisher of the United Methodist
Publishing House, died April 15 in Nashville.
After noting that two daughters, three grandchildren and one
great-grandson survive him, the obituary noted that the former World War
II Army Air Force captain “was employed by the United Methodist
Publishing House for 43 years and served as president and publisher for
Just two lines?
How can anyone summarize the contributions of this giant of a man in a
His rags-to-riches story reads like a novel.
Following his 1938 graduation from Pleasant Hill Academy near
Crossville, Tenn., John packed his cardboard suitcase and hitched a ride
to Nashville with the graduation speaker. With $15 in his pocket, the
son of a sharecropper got a job as an elevator operator at a YMCA for
$12 a week.
In 1940, he began his long career with the Methodist Publishing House as
an accounting clerk. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he entered
the Army Air Force, advanced to the rank of captain, navigated B-24
bombing missions over Italy and once flew to the North Pole.
In 1945, he returned to the publishing house as an accountant, and
worked there until he returned to service in the Air Force during the
Following his stint in Korea, he served as an accounting supervisor for
the Nashville publishing house. He was appointed vice president in
charge of publishing in 1964. He was elected president and publisher in
1970 and served until his retirement in 1982.
When he was named president, the publishing house was a segregated
facility. Lovick Pierce, the former chief executive, had resisted
efforts to integrate the editorial and executive offices. But when
Procter assumed the office, he declared, “The church wants us to
integrate and that’s what we are going to do.”
At that time, all vice presidents had to be elected by the board, so
Procter worked with key board members to ensure the election of the Rev.
W. T. Handy as the first black vice president. Handy, a popular
official and pastor, was elected bishop in 1980. During his 1982
retirement dinner, Handy noted that the publishing house “now has been
cited by the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race to be a
model to the rest of the church.”
Roger Burgess, 82, former top staff executive of United Methodist
Communications and former vice president of public relations of the
publishing house, said, “Of all the bosses I’ve had in my 40-year career
through the church, John Procter was the best; he was the fairest and
the most successful".
Burgess, who worked at the publishing house from 1974 to 1984, said he
only saw Procter get angry once in all the time he worked with him.
“During a board meeting, a businessman who was new to the agency
challenged one of his decisions. 'Sometimes you have to put a burr under
the saddle of a horse to get him going,' said the man. 'That might work
with a mule,' responded Procter. 'It won’t work with a thoroughbred.'”
I was hired by Procter in 1974 as an editor with “Today” magazine, the
successor to “Together” magazine. Unfortunately, circulation fell to
160,000 subscribers. Prior to the computer age, that figure was not
sufficient to support a labor-intensive publication, so Procter decided
to discontinue the magazine. I moved to the Eastern Pennsylvania
Conference to serve as director of communications for 18 months and was
later invited back to the publishing house as the editor of two new
publications, “Circuit Rider,” a magazine for clergy, and “Newscope,” a
weekly newsletter. Both publications, introduced by Procter, are still
During that time, Procter gave absolute freedom to the editorial
process, but was always available for advice when needed.
He was unafraid of controversy. I remember when he gave the green light
to publish a book on Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church. He
allowed me to carry positive and critical reviews of the book. How many
publishers allow negative reviews of their own products?
During his presidency, he enabled the publishing agency to open
additional Cokesbury stores, create Curric-U-Shops, and shift from
linotype or hot-metal composition to a computerized typesetting system.
The publisher worked long hours during the week, but he proclaimed,
“Saturdays are for me and Sundays are for families.” He was an avid
golfer and staff retreats were frequently held near Florida golf
John and his family attended Calvary United Methodist Church every
Sunday, where he taught a Sunday school class. Legend has it, he also
enjoyed watching the television exploits of Woody Woodpecker, the Road
Runner and the battered Coyote. He also found time to serve` on boards
of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, the
Association of American Publishers, the Vanderbilt Medical Center and
Third National Bank.
Neil Alexander, current president and publisher, arrived at the
publishing house long after Procter retired, but he said, “Then and now,
Mr. Procter’s legend lives on as a strong, compassionate, pragmatic and
effective leader. The missional and financial foundations he
established have helped UMPH remain a viable, self-funding ministry for
nearly three decades after his retirement.
“We are in his debt.”
*Peck was an employee of the United Methodist Publishing House for 25
years prior to his 2000 retirement.
News media contact: David Briggs, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5472 or firstname.lastname@example.org.