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Former Editor Tommy Manning Passes

Carlton Oakley

October 26, 2021

Rick Watson, current President/CFO of Free Will Baptist Press, wrote in a recent email, “When someone is departed for a number of years and is still in the conversation, they either did really well or really bad. In Mr. Manning's case I believe it was the former.”

According to an editorial written in the December 11, 1968 issue of The Free Will Baptist magazine, the Rev. C. H. Overman stepped down after 11 years as editor, and Mr. Manning’s name appears on the masthead of the January 8, 1969 magazine as Acting Editor of Literature. He was listed along with 22 other Press employees extending Christmas greetings on the back cover of the December 18, 1968 issue of The Free Will Baptist as it had the previous year and back to the December 23, 1964 magazine. In other words, his association with Free Will Baptist Press dates back before half of the current employees were born. According to an article in the June 24, 1981 magazine, Mr. Manning continued as editor until August 20, 1980.

How does one extol someone whom he has never met? In the case of an editor, one can look at his editorials. For example, the January 20, 1971 issue of The Free Will Baptist contains an editorial urging us all to be faithful in church attendance. A key thought from it: “Consider this: Would there be a church to attend if everybody had the same zeal as you have for its cause and employed the same faithfulness as you do in attending its services.” Now consider that the title of that editorial is the eye-arresting “To Kill the Church.” One sees that Mr. Manning was insightful and zealous.

“Half-way is dangerous. Dangling between being lost and being saved is no fun. Salvation is still found in God—and in Him only.” Mr. Manning’s May 19, 1971 editorial, “Halfway…” shows his concern for the lost.

His humor and flexibility are displayed in “God’s Graffiti.” In this June 12, 1974 editorial he expressed satisfaction at seeing God’s name being used properly in unauthorized decorations. “There may be those who abhor the fact that in graffito style the good news [sic] is often found in such close conjunction with nefarious exhortations and vulgarisms, yet we know of a certainty that in all of life, even, there is a battle between the good and the bad, that the two are often seen side by side; therefore, though we are displeased at the salacious statements that still scream out at us, we nevertheless find satisfaction in the quiet assurance which certifies that amid all evil, God is there to fight it and to divert our attention from that evil and to lead us onward. God’s way is the best way. Yes, God’s way is still the right way.”

Thus we see that for about 16 years Brother Manning served God faithfully at the Free Will Baptist Press Foundation. He used his God-given talents and his insight, love, and humor in zealous service. We thank God for his life and his service.

“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing” (Matthew 24:45–46).

Tommy Manning (October 10, 1939–October 12, 2021)

Noel Thomas “Tommy” Manning was Promoted to Glory on October 12, 2021, in San Marcos, Texas. Referred to by many as a Renaissance man, Manning was equally accomplished as a writer, artist, and musician.

Born to James Samuel and Tinie McGlohon Manning near Ayden, N.C. on a family farm, Tommy was the youngest of six children. Growing up on and around farm life with a large family, Tommy developed a deep love of nature, animals, relationships, and a hard work ethic.

From an early age, he was drawn to the fine arts and classical writings. Some of those early inspirations were established while Manning was a student at Ayden High School, where he served in leadership roles in multiple clubs, and as student body vice-president and president. He was an honors graduate from East Carolina University (ECU), Greenville, N.C. with a B.A. in Education. He had certifications in rhetoric and grammar, reading diagnostics, social studies, and art. Manning had additional studies in theology and Christian interpretation at the Baptist Theological Seminary (Nashville, Tenn.) and the Evangeline Booth College (Atlanta, Ga.), formerly the Salvation Army School for Officers’ Training.

Tommy’s career took him from photography and art direction to church leadership, and five decades of writing, designing, and editing with two international Christian ministry organizations. Manning served the Free Will Baptist Press Foundation (1958-1980) in Ayden, N.C. in multiple roles; during that span he was Illustrator, Art Director, Writer, Editor, and Managing Editor. Manning also served as an adjunct professor of Creative Writing at Pitt Community College, Greenville, N.C. In 1980, he was recruited to move to San Antonio, Texas as Managing Editor for the Christian Jew Foundation Ministries. He continued his work with this international organization until retirement in 2008 (although he returned as Special Projects Editor for a short time in 2014).

From the time he was 16 years old, Manning served as a musician and director of music for various churches; he was an organist, pianist, and choir director. His greatest joy was playing the organ, and he always said, “When I’m on the organ bench, playing for the Lord, I always feel one step closer to Heaven.” Manning’s greatest memories of church leadership were at Ayden Free Will Baptist, Reedy Branch Free Will Baptist (Winterville, N.C.), Good Shepherd Presbyterian, and Bellaire Baptist (San Antonio).

As a songwriter, Manning had numerous published works. He was also an artist since childhood and left behind several finished and in-progress works focusing on nature studies, portraiture, still life, classical reinterpretations, abstract and more. Manning was also a published book author and released “Sleep Softly, Mama” in 2004 and was working on another novel at the time of his passing.

During the Jimmy Carter Presidential Administration, Manning served as a North Carolina representative for the White House Conference on Families (Washington D.C.); he had been a presenter at the International Reading Conference in Atlanta, GA. for ECU and Pitt Community College; he was the recipient of the Governor’s Award of Excellence from North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt; he was listed in Who’s Who in America, Notable Americans of the Bicentennial Era, Personalities in the South, and Who’s Who in Religion.

In addition to his parents, Tommy was preceded in death by siblings Sallie B. Evans, Pauline Norman, Fannye Little, Bill Manning, and Jimmie Manning.

His memory will be valued and kept alive by his son, Noel Thomas Manning II; daughter-in-law, Beth; granddaughter, Kathryn; grandson, Thomas (all of Boiling Springs, N.C.); former wife, Joyce Reagan Pegram of Shelby, N.C.; longtime friend and caretaker, Johnny Conrado of Luling, Texas, and numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, friends, and co-workers.

A Celebration of Life service will be announced and held at a later date in Ayden, N.C.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to any of the following organizations:
• The Cleveland County Arts Council, Shelby, N.C.
• Cragmont Assembly, Black Mountain, N.C.
• Gardner-Webb University Performing and Visual Arts Programs
• The Salvation Army
• The University of Mount Olive Department of Music, Mount Olive, N.C.

Porter Loring Mortuary, San Antonio, Texas and Farmer Funeral Service, Ayden, N.C.

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