Dr. James McKenzie Baird, Jr., the retired senior minister of The First Presbyterian Church of Jackson who fought for the primacy of the Scriptures and faithfully preached salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone, died on Friday. He was 91.

He was a preacher of the people, with a ministry accentuated by personal relationships and his anecdotal teaching. He preached the Bible with authority and offered practical applications bringing the Bible to life for many. He recognized his own sin and need of a savior in Christ, telling the congregation once, “You wouldn’t have me if you knew my heart.”

A memorial service is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at First Presbyterian.

Baird was a giant in his denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, from its inception, even before its founding as a new denomination to offset the tide of liberalism among Presbyterians.

Baird was among those speaking at 1969 rally in Atlanta calling for church leaders and congregations to return to Biblical standards and prepare to form a separate denomination, according to “By Faith,” an online magazine of the PCA. He also was part of 12-man steering committee appointed in 1971 to lead reform, calling for a reaffirmation of the primacy of the Scriptures and the central mission of the Church, resulting in the formation of the PCA.

After being called to First Presbyterian in Jackson, he was one of the founding pastors of Mission Mississippi, a Christian racial reconciliation movement.

Mission Mississippi’s mission is to encourage and demonstrate grace in the Body of Christ across racial lines so that communities throughout Mississippi can see practical evidence of the Gospel message.

Even in retirement, Baird was active and preached 100 sermons one year at the age of 75. Over the last five years he routinely ministered at The Orchard in Ridgeland where he delivered his last public message late last year. He had just prayed with a church member on the phone last week before being rushed to the hospital with a medical emergency from which he never recoverd.

In Madison County, First Presbyterian was instrumental in establishing Highlands Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland in the 1990s while Baird was senior minister. Baird was influential in encouraging Madison Heights Church PCA in Madison as that congregation was established in 2006 by Pear Orchard, Lakeland, and Highlands Presbyterian churches.

Born in 1928 to Scottish immigrants in New Jersey, his family moved to Chicago when he was 10. After university, military service and marrying the love of his life, Jane McMillan, he had a successful career at New York Life Insurance Company before being called to the ministry at age 28.

He was a father figure to many, especially young ministers. “I’m thankful to have known this giant in Israel,” said the Rev. David Felker, Minister of Discipleship at First Presbyterian. “He became a friend. As a minister in the PCA and at First Pres, I’m a great debtor to him.”

The following is his obituary as provided by his family:


“Dear People….”
If James McKenzie Baird, Jr., was delivering his obituary, that is how he would begin. Many will recognize the familiar opening to his sermons, and the powerful voice that helped lead friends and family to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jim went to be with his Heavenly Father on January 31, at age 91. He lived a remarkable life, marked with service, humility and a sense of purpose.

Born in 1928 to Scottish immigrant parents in New Jersey, his family moved to Chicago when he was 10. Following high school graduation, Jim traveled south to Maryville College in Tennessee to play football. It was there that he met the love of his life, Jane McMillan, on a blind date. A Southern belle from North Georgia, Jane remarked that it was the first time she had ever seen a young man in an overcoat.

After college, Jim was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the infantry branch of the U.S. Army, where he served during the Korean War. In 1952 he married Jane and began work for the New York Life Insurance Company.

At the age of 28, Jim became a Christian and was called to his life’s work of full-time ministry. In 1957, he graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia. Jim’s ministry spanned almost 40 years in Presbyterian churches across the Southeast.

He shepherded congregations in Clinton, Miss., Brewton, Ala., Gadsden, Ala., Macon, Ga., and Coral Gables, Fla., before retiring after 12 years as the senior minister of The First Presbyterian Church of Jackson in 1995. He was a “Preacher of the People,” with a ministry accentuated by personal relationships and his anecdotal teaching.

He was a Founding Father of his beloved denomination, The Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), founded in 1973. He served as the 12th moderator of the PCA. He was gifted with a clear vision and a strong work ethic, and even after retirement he was an able preacher of the Word.

He continued to spread the Gospel – in homes, in churches, and at Bible, mission and marriage conferences across the world – and in one year alone, at the age of 75, he delivered over 100 sermons throughout the North American continent.

Dr. Baird late last year preached his last homily at age 91 at The Orchard, a retirement home where he shared monthly duties for the last five years.

Jim believed in the importance of Christian education. During his ministry, he was involved in Christian schools in Gadsden, Macon and Jackson – and we’re sure many will remember his Sunday night “children’s sermons” and the humorous stick figures that accompanied them.

Dr. Baird also served on the board of Reformed Theological Seminary, Belhaven University and African Bible Colleges. Additionally, he worked closely with pastors and laymen to help form Mission Mississippi, an organization formed to encourage and demonstrate grace in the Body of Christ across racial lines.

He and his beloved wife Jane loved to travel the world, especially after retirement, and were purposeful in encouraging missionaries and pastors along the way. They visited six continents, and never left a country without sending a postcard to the family back home. His greatest earthly joy, next to his relationship with the Lord, was his marriage and his family.

He leaves his adored wife of 67 years, Jane, and their four sons, Jim Baird III (Susan), Knox Baird (Debra), David Baird (Pat) and Mark Baird (Rhonda); and his 11 grandchildren Megan, Andrew (Anna), and Grayson Baird; Alexandria, Knox and Hannah Jane Baird; Grace and Mac Baird; Macey B. Benton (Matt), Betsy B. Gardner (Seth), and Richard Baird.

He was preceded in death by his parents, James and Christina Baird, his older sister, Ina Arnold, and his infant son Daniel.

Family gatherings were always a reason to thank God for His Son, for Jim’s beloved America, and for his family. The Baird clan will especially remember his legacy of rich storytelling, his devotion to and admiration for his wife, and his leave-taking of them in their adult lives: “I’m proud of you, girl,” or “I’m proud of you, son,” would carry them for days.

“Papa Jim” will be remembered as a man of great integrity – as well as for his homemade birthday and Valentine’s cards, the love of his New York Yankees, his prowess on the golf course, his weakness for ice cream, and particularly for his favorite benediction:

(Jude 1:24-25) “Now to Him who is able to keep you from falling, to Him who is able, at your death, to present you blameless before His throne of grace with exceeding great joy. To the only wise God, our Savior, let there be glory, majesty, dominion and power, now and forever more. AMEN.”

A private family burial will be followed by a memorial service at 6 p.m. at The First Presbyterian Church of Jackson on Tuesday, Feb. 4. There will be no formal visitation.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be sent to African Bible Colleges, Belhaven University, French Camp Academy and Reformed Theological Seminary. “Well done, Good and Faithful Servant.”