the dynamic duo
On June 4, 2009, hundreds of people from across the nation gathered on the campus of Free Will Baptist Bible College to celebrate the life and ministry of Dianne Tippett.
One of the premier journalists in Free Will Baptist circles, Bert gave 40 years to denominational publishing, first as publications editor at Free Will Baptist Bible College, but also as the official photographer for the national convention, as a founding member of the Free Will Baptist Press Association, and as a member of the creative team behind ONE Magazine.
His wife Dianne worked tirelessly as a member of the staff at Free Will Baptist Bible College, serving in a variety of roles during her lengthy tenure. Together, the pair made a formidable team—a team that, over time, changed the landscape of Free Will Baptists.
The articles below give readers a glimpse into the remarkable lives of the Tippetts, as presented by friends, family, and colleagues during the celebration held in their honor.
bert tippett: The Professional
by Jack Williams
He sang bass in the college quartet when we met in 1961, but the gleam in Bert Tippett’s eye said he had more in the warehouse than on display in the window. The 20-year-old English major was not only president of the student body, he was mighty sweet on the secretary of the senior class—a North Carolina cutie who was an expert shot with a pistol.
Over the next five decades, Bert became a professional in a number of areas. We will look briefly at three of them—The Preacher, The Photographer, The Journalist.
Bert answered the call to preach during the October 1961 Missionary Conference. “I was open to the call since I was a freshman,” he said. “I’d hear classmates tell how they fought the call to preach, and I’d walk away thinking, ‘Lord, I’m not fighting. Tell me what you want me to do.’”
When he arrived in New Hampshire in 1963 to pastor Twin Mountain Free Will Baptist Church, the Northeast Association licensed him, and ordained him in 1964. That’s the only church he pastored in 48 years.
Photo: Free Will Baptist Bible College Quartet, 1961 (left to right) Jim Puckett, Jake Creech, Bill McCuin, Bert Tippett.
Did I mention he was ordained twice? Northeast Association records were misplaced for a time, and to be sure his ordination was official after joining the college staff, Cumberland Association repeated the process. So, while Bert does not teach repeated regeneration, he does practice repeated ordination!
He said, “It just takes more for some of us.” Perhaps that’s why he was baptized twice…but that’s another story.
Every preacher has a signature ministry. Bert says his is working with students at Free Will Baptist Bible College, including 12 magic years when he succeeded Bob Shockey as campus pastor (1997-2008). He became a big brother, friend, and counselor to students. They trust him with their deepest secrets.
Former FWBBC president Dr. Charles Thigpen said, “I don’t know how many times I’ve heard students say, ‘I just can’t wait until Wednesday night to hear Mr. Tippett.’ One thing stands out to me. When students had hospital stays and doctors were reluctant for them to return to dormitories, the Tippetts opened their home to them. I know of no other family who performed such a ministry.”
Bert Tippett is the only Free Will Baptist preacher with Secret Service clearance to “shoot” the President of the United States. That occurred when the Grand Ole Opry moved from Ryman Auditorium to the Opry House, and President Richard Nixon appeared on stage that first Saturday night.
Bert had a stage pass to photograph Christian artists for a series of articles Genny Waddell was writing. The Secret Service checked him out and allowed him within five feet of the President with a loaded camera, as President Nixon played “Happy Birthday” to his wife Pat on the piano.
Bert photographed two other U.S. Presidents. He shot President Eisenhower at the U.S. War College, and put Ronald Reagan in the cross-hairs at a printing industry event before Reagan was elected President.
The photography bug bit him as a sophomore in college when his dad gave him a camera. He later spent time with Bob Grannis, “Nashville’s Largest Photographer.” To save the school money, Bert learned to use a darkroom and develop his own film, and took commercial art courses at U.T. Nashville.
For 20 years, he was official photographer for the Free Will Baptist national convention. Hundreds of “Tippett pictures” taken during business sessions, worship services, and candid moments appear in Contact (especially the September issues). He was everybody’s favorite shutterbug because he got the lighting right, the angle right, the subject right, and he never, never, never missed a deadline.
When asked to pick his best picture, Bert said, “That’s like being asked to pick your favorite child.” Which is a great answer, unless you know his children—Karen who is beautiful, and Brian who is…well, Brian!
At age 24, Bert was named publications editor at FWBBC, where he also served as men’s dormitory supervisor…and taught physical education…and taught journalism, and encountered the prime directive that every employee knows—if you work at FWBBC, you wear many hats.
A journalistic turning point came when he wrote a five-part study series for Adult Focus, a CTS publication. Wow, what subjects he addressed:
God’s Formula for Facing Difficulties
God’s Formula for Meeting Sorrow
God’s Formula for Overcoming Fear
God’s Formula for Overcoming Temptation
God’s Formula for Constant Joyfulness
If you want to know why Bert Tippett became the most respected journalist among Free Will Baptists, read those five articles written by a young wordsmith just 26 years old.
That same year he wrote an article titled “The Post Bugler” (Contact, September 1967), the story of a Marine he met in a worship service at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who was later killed in a plane crash. Nobody writes better human-interest stories than Bert Tippett.
He understands people, how they feel, and why they feel that way. His gripping article in ONE Magazine (April-May 2005) titled “Boy on the Bunk” tells about a teenager converted in reform school during one of Bert’s Christian Service assignments.
Bert did it again in a magnificent piece titled “Mapco Ministry”(Contact, July 2001) describing a 17-degree morning at a Nashville Mapco Station, a cup of coffee, a disabled daughter, and a pink Mickey Mouse jacket.
But he did more than write upbeat articles. He was an All-Pro news hound who got the facts straight and squeezed them into a bang-bang format. Tippett-crafted news items always included the who, what, when, where, and why details.
He became the voice of reason that students heard on Wednesday night, the eye behind the camera that captured history, the face of journalism that was trusted by editors across the denomination. Here’s what I mean….
Between 1965 and 2005, Bert published 230 issues of Free Will Baptist Bible College Bulletin, the college’s official publication.
He has published more than 800 issues of Campus News…started in 1978 when somebody said it would eliminate chapel announcements. Sure it did!
For 15 years (1970-1985), he served as Lumen advisor.
He launched Alumni News in 1975. Its successor, Illumina, will roll a second issue off the press this summer.
Bert was one of the architects of a tsunami known in evangelical print circles as ONE Magazine. It was unheard of that six national publications could cease publishing, combine their resources, and create a single publication…until Bert Tippett and the Free Will Baptists did it. And now everybody wants to know how they did it.
One Magazine editor Eric Thomsen said, “During my college years, Bert Tippett amazed me with his multiple skills—editor, photographer, designer, speaker, and more. I admired the way he juggled a busy schedule and produced high-quality work without abandoning his family or church. He became a role model for my life and ministry.
“That’s what I meant to tell him when I walked into his office the day before graduation. But instead, I blurted out, ‘Mr. Tippett, I want your job someday!’ He smiled and said, ‘I just hope you aren’t planning to start next week!’
“More than a decade later, Bert called me and during the conversation, he asked, ‘By the way, do you still want my job?’ We both laughed. Then he grew quiet. ‘Seriously, are you interested?’
“Although I didn’t tell him yes that day, he could not have honored me more. I couldn’t imagine following a more consummate professional.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Bert Tippett the professional…preacher, photographer, journalist, who for 51 years has been a student, a supporter, or an employee at Free Will Baptist Bible College. If you need a picture, he can take it. If you need an article, he can write it. If you need a sermon, he can preach it.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Jack Williams is director of communications at Free Will Baptist Bible College.
by Robert E. Picirilli
We knew them first as Elbert W. Tippett, Jr.—though he was Bert from the start, here—and Dianne Manning.
Both of them enrolled in the fall of 1958 and graduated in 1962. In one sense, Bert wasn’t from anywhere in particular. His dad, who later became the college’s well-loved dietician, was in the Navy, and so Bert had lived in a number of places.
As a freshman he was from Rhode Island, and as a senior from Norfolk. One year he was even from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba! But everybody thought of North Carolina as his home base. Dianne, on the other hand, was one-hundred percent North Carolina, from a sharp bend in U.S. 264 east of nearly everywhere called Pantego, not far from my favorite fishing-hole, Lake Mattamuskeet.
They began to rise above the crowd even when they were students. As a freshman, Bert was an assistant on the staff of the Missionary Prayer Band newsletter. By the second year, Dianne was sophomore class secretary, vice-president of the Polyhymnia Club, and a dorm prayer captain.
As juniors, both were prayer captains and Dianne was class vice-president. Bert was vice-president of the choir, Dianne secretary of the Polyhymnia Club. And—mark this!—Bert was editor of the Lumen. Finally, during their senior year, Dianne was class secretary and Bert was president of the student body. Bert was in the college quartet and was chosen by the faculty as the Most Outstanding Student.
Why do I recite this litany? Because I think it makes a point: leadership will out. Even one’s peers know leaders when they see them.
Return to FWBBC
Following graduation, Bert and Dianne married and soon moved off to New Hampshire to pastor the Free Will Baptist church in Twin Mountain. New England was one of those places where he had lived when his father was stationed there, and he was sensitive to the needs of the work up east. Off they went to snowy cold winters and relative isolation from other Free Will Baptists. Among other things, Bert learned how to build a fire in the church’s wood-burning heater.
And then their alma mater called, inviting Bert to join the college staff. Let me insert here that there’s something of a tradition that the students named “Most Outstanding” often wind up back at FWBBC. So it was in this case. In 1966 he became the editor of our official publications, a position he excelled in and maintained until 2005 when he shifted to director of church relations.
Dianne, having proved her mettle as secretary of many different organizations, likewise has served the college in a number of office positions, including being the unsung hero of mailing list maintenance!
What Colleagues Say
Since my perspective is that of their co-workers, I’ve asked around as to what others think about when they think of working with Bert and Dianne. Here are some of them.
These two are team players. They don’t push personal agendas—unless you count Bert’s well-known love for his Macs. (Don’t cross him on that point. He’ll laugh when I tease him about his “toy,” but he knows very well what it can do.) They’re always working for the good of the college, always cooperative, never selfishly looking out for themselves.
They are encouragers, both by just being around them and by their words. Always positive, always with warmth and a smile. They aren’t complainers or objectors. They are ready helpers.
You can go to either of them and expect an honest and objective response, and confidentiality if you need it. But if your idea is lame-brained, Dianne will just smile and say she doesn’t know; Bert will tell you, but the words will be compassionate.
You can guess where this next compliment came from: Bert puts out a super product, but he’ll do everything he can to bring it in under budget—without sacrificing quality.
They are both conscientious and capable at their jobs. You don’t have to oversee them. They’re dependable and resourceful. One interviewee called Bert “Mr. Reliability.” The literature he wrote and edited and produced—often doing all three—represented the college and the Lord well. Nobody hates a typographical error like Bert, and so you almost never found one—or errors of any other kind—in his work.
Excellence in Character
In short, both of them have offered up, on the altar of this ministry we call Free Will Baptist Bible College, the sweet-savor sacrifice of excellence.
Beneath these wonderful qualities lie some important, fundamental things. No doubt the other speakers will touch on these, too, but I wouldn’t be satisfied if I didn’t at least mention some of them, in closing. After all, even though they have excelled in what they’ve done, it’s more important that they’ve excelled in what they are.
First, Bert and Dianne have loved and faithfully served not men or an institution all these years but their Lord. They have exemplified for us how to love God and submit to His bidding.
Second, they have loved their family. This certainly began with the bond they had with their parents, and they have passed this closeness on down to the next generation, Brian and Karen, and then to their families.
Third, they have loved and been faithful to their church. We’ve been members of the same church—Cofer’s Chapel—for most of our lives, and I can testify to the example they have set there.
Fourth, and back to where we started, they love Free Will Baptist Bible College and manifest that in loyal, faithful service. I want finally to emphasize one more thing about their ministry here. More than anyone else I know, they loved not the institution as some abstraction but the students.
I feel sure they had more students in their home than any of the faculty and staff. Surely Bert has known personally more students than any of us, and counseled them, with the sort of genuine concern for them that caused them to seek him out even though that counsel was often firmly opposed to the direction they were taking.
A Special Grace
So here’s to the Lord who made these two choice servants what they are, and here’s to Bert and Dianne for letting Him. They continue to set an example for all of us in their own personal lives and present, difficult circumstances.
In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul says something highly complimentary about the way the Macedonians responded to his challenge to give. Bert and Dianne, before our very eyes, have manifested the same wonderful grace: they first gave themselves to the Lord. All the rest has come from that.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Robert Picirilli served 47 years at Free Will Baptist Bible College, retiring in 2002 after times as registrar, academic dean, and dean of the graduate school.
Dianne Tippett—The Christian Example
By Margaret Hampton
I first met Dianne 50 years ago when she became a new student at Free Will Baptist Bible College. I was a newly married senior, and my husband Ralph was a dorm supervisor and instructor. We met again several years later while visiting my brother Bill in New Hampshire.
Bert was the pastor at Twin Mountain, and my brother pastored in Littleton. During a sightseeing expedition, Bill took us by the Tippett’s upstairs apartment where we saw Bert, Dianne, and their newborn son Brian.
Our next meeting occurred in Nashville when the Tippetts joined the FWBBC staff. They lived in Parker Hall (present site of the tennis court). By then, Karen had been added to the family. One day, when Dianne was ill, Bert called to ask if I could care for Brian. While the children played, I put together a meal to share with the family. With few groceries on hand, I prepared meat loaf, pinto beans, and chocolate pie. Although it was meager fare, Dianne accepted it graciously, choosing to see my good intentions rather than the menu.
As the years came and went, Dianne and I became more involved at the college. I’m not sure that anyone can grasp the number of “hats” Dianne wore for the school, but she was faithful, gracious, and sincere in fulfilling each duty. At various times, she served as dorm supervisor, physical education instructor, dean of women, office worker, and chaperone for traveling groups.
No matter her position, one thing always stood out to me—her genuineness. She always did her best, and she was always herself. She was also a good wife and mother and took her responsibilities at home seriously. Cooperative and considerate, she often went and beyond the call of duty without recognition. Her servant attitude was, and is, a great example to those around her.
After our children grew up and established homes of their own, we confided and celebrated together through each new phase of their lives. We endured the grief of losing our parents together. We shared our concerns when our sons faced serious health issues and prayed for each other. Throughout the years, Dianne always helped shoulder my burdens, no matter what I faced.
In time, Dianne became an ambassador for FWBBC, as she visited Free Will Baptist churches and homes across the country. In many areas, Bert and Dianne are regarded as the “face” of FWBBC. I am grateful that we have had such wonderful representatives.
It is my prayer that God will continue to bless and use the Tippetts, providing them grace for the days ahead. I only hope that Dianne will never lose the sweet smile that comes so easily. As God has blessed her, she continues to be a blessing and encouragement. I am so grateful that God allowed our paths to cross.
About the Writer: Margaret Hampton retired as library manager at Free Will Baptist Bible College in 2008 after serving 37 years at the college.