the fourth man
by Jack Williams, publications editor
Free Will Baptist Bible College
WHEN TOM MALONE TOOK HIS FIRST BREATH on December 30, 1940, he was already a Free Will Baptist preacher’s son. He can’t remember a day when his dad, Reverend Wallace Malone, did not have a Bible in his hand and the responsibility of a local church on his mind.
What Tom did not know as a boy growing up in Illinois was that God had similar plans for him. Converted at age seven, he spent the next 11 years trying (not too successfully at times) to avoid embarrassing his preacher father. “It was tough,” Tom says. “I felt the pressure of being a preacher’s son, knowing I could not do what others did, nor go where they went. But I loved my dad and mom, and never wanted to embarrass them. I did not always succeed.”
Call to Preach
Forty-six years ago, three months after his older brother Ron prayed nearly all Saturday night for him, Tom came to the first, great crossroad in his life. Just before Wallace Malone entered the pulpit to preach that Sunday night, as the same brother who prayed all night sang “No One Ever Cared For Me Like Jesus,” Tom slipped from his pew to the altar where he prayed and announced his call to preach.
Three days later at 6:30 Wednesday morning,
18-year-old Tom Malone knocked on the front door of a place he had never been—Free Will Baptist Bible College.
“I knew if I planned to be a preacher, FWBBC was the place I needed to be. I had heard about the college for years, and we had college groups in our church. FWBBC represented the will of God for me, and I wanted the will of God.”
The college administration would have been startled in 1959 if someone had suggested that the skinny preacher’s kid from Illinois, fresh from running track and playing high school football and basketball, was destined to become the fourth man, the fourth president of the institution.
Choices and Changes
Life seemed rather straightforward for Tom—study, attend chapel, preach and roughhouse with his five roommates, including a guy from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who became his life-long best buddy, James Puckett. Then he met a brown-eyed southern belle from Darlington, South Carolina, named Verna Odom, who was also a student at FWBBC. She became Mrs. Tom Malone on June 17, 1961.
Ten years and five daughters later, Tom began his signature pastorate at First FWB Church in Florence, Alabama, where he founded a flourishing Christian school, grew a soul-winning congregation, and launched a 19-year success story that caught the eye of the National Association of Free Will Baptists.
Tom thought of himself as a pastor, evangelist, and soul-winner and so he was. He preached more than 9,200 sermons, pastored three churches, saw five daughters graduate from FWBBC, delivered the keynote address at the 1972 Free Will Baptist national convention, and for 46 years has enjoyed a boomerang relationship with Free Will Baptist Bible College.
After pastorates in Illinois and Missouri, Tom returned to FWBBC in 1969 where he worked two years in the office of development. The denomination elected him to the FWBBC Board of Trustees in 1974; he served on the board 16 years—10 as chair. He learned first-hand the importance of financial support and student recruitment.
The College President
In December 1989, Malone found himself in the crosshairs when the Board of Trustees asked him to become FWBBC’s fourth president. He prayed about it until the spring of 1990. Although hesitant to leave his Alabama pastorate and reluctant to leap into the educational fire that was FWBBC, he finally said yes one more time to the college he loved.
He was inaugurated as President C. Thomas Malone, but answered to “Tom” wherever he traveled. He carried the weight of the college on his shoulders and remembered the leadership example set by his three predecessors—L.C. Johnson, L.R. Ennis, and Charles Thigpen.
“The highlights of my years as president,” Tom reflects, “came when the college received regional accreditation and when we purchased 123 acres on which to build a new campus.”
Malone leaned back in the chair of his third-floor office and said, “The hardest thing I ever had to do was involve the denomination in this educational ministry. Our support base is small, no more than 300-500 churches. Oh, what could be done if we all pulled together!”
What would the 65-year-old preacher/educator do differently if he could? “I’d take more time to hunt and fish,” he grins. “I discovered while pastoring that many men hunt and fish. If I had joined them in their camps, I could have influenced them for Christ.”
Tom speaks often of the most influential person in his life, his dad, who demonstrated in the home, the church, and the community what it means to be a man of God.
“Dad was committed to God first, then to his family, to his churches, to the Free Will Baptist denomination. I want to follow his example—live right and finish well.”
Three years ago, the fourth man passed the presidential mantle on to the fifth man, J. Matthew Pinson. After serving as FWBBC chancellor since 2002, Dr. C. Thomas (Tom) Malone plans to load his pickup truck in January 2006 and wait once more at God’s crossroads…Bible in hand, ready to preach, pastor, and promote.
THE TOM MALONE CHRONOLOGY
Born: December 30, 1940
Undergraduate Studies Southern Illinois University
1959-1963 Bachelor of Arts Free Will Baptist Bible College
Doctor of Divinity (honorary) Midwestern Baptist College
Doctor of Letters (honorary) Bethany Theological Seminary
1963-1965 First FWB Church, Ina, Illinois
1965-1969 Fellowship FWB Church, Flat River, Missouri
1971-1990 First FWB Church, Florence, Alabama
1967-1968 Assistant Moderator Missouri State Association
1969-1971 Office of Development Free Will Baptist Bible College
1974-1990 Board of Trustees Free Will Baptist Bible College
1990-2002 President Free Will Baptist Bible College
2002-2005 Chancellor Free Will Baptist Bible College
1972 Founder Florence Christian Academy, Florence, Alabama
June 17, 1961 Married Verna Odom
Mari Malone Waddell
Kristi Malone Bell
Aimee Malone Scott
Tommie Jo Malone Ryan