As a high school student, Rory Lee dreamed of a career involving math or science. Maybe, he thought, he would attend Mississippi State University and become an engineer, or head to the University of Mississippi and become a pharmacist. But when Lee heard the call to ministry, he knew exactly where he would go to pursue it.
"As soon as I felt that call, I knew I would be going to Mississippi College," Dr. Lee recalls. "I knew MC was the place to go to prepare to be a minister, but at that time, I didn’t really understand the breadth of what was possible as far as a career in ministry. As a student at MC, I realized there were so many other ways to perform ministry besides being a pastor.”
In the four decades since his graduation, Dr. Rory Lee has dedicated himself to ministry in many forms. He spent 33 years in Christian higher education guiding the paths of hundreds of young people, and preached and counseled as a bi-vocational Baptist minister. He served his alma mater as interim president during the most challenging days in MC's history, and led not one but two other Christian universities into new eras of success. And today, Dr. Lee provides children and families with life changing, loving assistance as the executive director of the Baptist Children’s Village (BCV).
In recognition of his dedicated service to his alma mater and tireless work on behalf of others, Dr. Rory Lee was named Mississippi College’s 2011 Alumnus of the Year.
“This honor is particularly meaningful because so many of my most significant relationships were formed at Mississippi College,” Dr. Lee says. “The opportunity to be part of a college and a community that value faith, work, and honor prepared me for every position I was called to fill.”
Lee's long history of service to MC began when he was a student. In 1971, while he was still three months shy of earning his bachelor's degree in Bible, Lee accepted a position as an MC admissions counselor. He continued to work in admissions by day while completing his master's degree in counseling at MC at night, and somehow also found the time to take summer classes at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
In 1973, Lee was named MC’s dean of men, and soon after added a second job title as pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Hazlehurst, Mississippi. Lee continued to serve as a bi-vocational pastor at the church for the next 17
years, while also earning his doctorate from the University of Mississippi and holding a number of high-profile, high-responsibility positions at MC, including dean of admissions, director of development, vice president for development, and vice president for institutional advancement.
Dr. Lee’s greatest time of service to his alma mater came in 1993, following the resignation of university president Dr. Lewis Nobles. At the request of the MC board of trustees, Dr. Lee stepped in to serve as interim president, a role that saw him providing capable leadership and boosting university morale during a challenging time. Dr. Lee's service to MC did not come without personal and professional sacrifice. In order to devote his full attention to leading MC, he resigned his position as pastor of Antioch Baptist Church.
"Few alumni ever reach the level of loyalty and service to their alma mater that Dr. Rory Lee has achieved," says Ron Howard, MC's vice president for academic affairs. "As MC's interim president and vice precedence for institutional advancement, Rory exhibited exceptional leadership to the university during very challenging times."
Dr. Lee left MC in 1996 to serve as president of William Carey College in Hattiesburg, a position he held until 1997, when he was named president of Louisiana College. During his seven-year tenure as president, Louisiana College experienced tremendous growth, including the construction of new facilities on campus, two new sports added to the athletic program, and an increase in the number of faculty members holding terminal degrees.
In 2004, Dr. Lee assumed his current position as executive director of the Baptist Children’s Village, a statewide ministry that provides safe group homes for children and psychological and spiritual counseling for families. BCV provides short-term care for children whose parents have financial, health, or behavioral problems that make caring for their children temporarily impossible, and also offers long-term care for children who have been neglected, abused, or abandoned.
“Working here, you see things that can make you very sad and very angry,” Dr. Lee continues. “But we’ve learned not to dwell on those negative feelings. Instead, we focus on showing Christ’s love not only to the children, but also to their families. This is a healing ministry.”
BCV cares for approximately 100 children ages two to 20 at any given time, and serves an average of 300 children each year. Headquartered in Ridgeland, BCV operates eight residential campuses throughout Mississippi and counting; Dr. Lee’s ultimate goal is to have a BCV campus within one hour’s drive of every child in Mississippi. While the work can be stressful and emotionally draining, Dr. Lee points to hundreds of success stories of reunited families and once troubled children who have grown into productive, Christian adults as what makes it all worthwhile.
“Without a doubt, I was led to this job,” Dr. Lee says. “I very much enjoyed my days on college campuses, but most of the college students I had the privilege of working with were going to be great people regardless of the education they received. Our children at BCV have not had the advantages most of those people had. Working with them is a real opportunity to add value and direction to their lives.
“My goal is to have no repeat customers,” Dr. Lee continues. “When children leave our care, I want to see them come back to visit as Christian adults who are achieving all that’s possible in their spiritual life, professional life, and family life. In fact, my ultimate wish is that someday, there will not be a need for a place like the Baptist Children’s Village.”
Over the past 40 years, Dr. Rory Lee’s life of ministry has taken many forms, from guiding college kids to preaching at funerals, from leading educational institutions to providing hope for the weakest among us, but Mississippi College was his preparation for it all.
“The delicate balance of imparting knowledge and instilling values is a Mississippi College hallmark,” says Dr. Lee. “The academic lessons I learned at MC were significant, but the virtues of integrity and service to God and mankind that I learned there were far more important.”