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BCH President Michael C. Blackwell Reflects on Service and Leadership

Updated: May 2, 2022

He’s shaken hands with presidents, received counsel from Billy Graham, been an award-winning radio disc jockey, and covered

JFK’s funeral as a journalist, but Dr. Michael C. Blackwell’s greatest accomplishment may always be the leadership, strength, and stability he has brought to Baptist Children’s Homes of NC for

almost forty years.

As a husband of 55 years to Kathy and a father to Julie and Michael and grandfather to Gabriella and Piper, one sees a steadfast commitment of a man who is proud of his family. An avid communicator, Blackwell is unwilling to settle for mediocrity

and has created a culture of excellence which will far surpass his tenure. Recently, Baptist Children’s Homes University cohort

participants Eliza Harrell and Cynthia Truax interviewed 80-year-old Blackwell as he reveals the heart of a leader, talks about his

life, and shares thoughts as he reflects on decades of service and what the future holds.

Q: Aside from Christ, who is the biggest influence on your life?

“My parents played a major role in who I am today as a person, but I guess I would specifically say my father, Clitus Blackwell. If you know me, you know my father. He had a voice which resounded and he worked hard. He led the choir at church and loved our family well. His only vice was that he loved to smoke and that eventually led to his death. However, even in that, he taught me

many lessons. He was such a calm influence and I have cherished memories of him. He helped me practice my speaking when I was a DJ for the local radio station as a 14-year-old. He truly was one of the greatest men I’ve known.”

Q: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

“I remember walking down the street in Gaffney, South Carolina when I was about four years old and a man from the local radio station was conducting interviews. He came up and asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and without any hesitation, I blurted out that I wanted to be a preacher. I guess it was ingrained in me from an early age, but then as a teenager, I became so involved in radio as one of the youngest disc jockeys in the country that I ignored that calling. I remember that as a teenager a pastor encouraged me to pursue a life in preaching. I respectfully said ‘no thanks,’ for my heart was set on other things. It wasn’t until 1966, after I had been trained in journalism and communications, that I realized that God really did plan for me to be a minister and that I needed to answer that call.”

Q: Most people see you as a solid, concrete leader, but there have been moments when you didn’t feel that way. Share about a time in your life when you felt overwhelmed?

“I’ve had many times in life when I’ve felt overwhelmed, but I have

two which have always stood out to me. The first was about one week after I began as president of BCH. It was July of 1983 and I had been working through the day and night for days on end trying to get a handle on our budgets, our staff, and pinpointing areas of concern for the ministry. I had seen God move and knew that He had brought me to BCH but as I sat at that big wooden desk in my office, I suddenly had a sense of uncertainty. It was

one o’clock in the morning and I was completely overwhelmed with the task before me. My predecessor had taken most of the files with him when he left and was unwilling to mentor me and as I sat in that quiet building, I wondered what I had gotten myself into?”

Q: What did you do in that moment?

“I was blessed because God immediately brought a dear man to my mind who I knew was praying for me and was a night owl, too. I called J. Dewey Hobbs, at the time pastor, FBC Marion, and we

talked for more than two hours. As a fellow minister, he didn’t know child-care any better than I did but he did know struggle and victory in battles. That night became a turning point for me which I

have remembered all these years later. I think that when people are feeling stress it is important that they get help and reach out to their circle of supporters. I have been blessed to have a wonderful

group of peers who I meet with twice a year who hold me accountable and help share the load.

“Find your people and reach out to them. Be willing to have hard questions asked of you and be willing to reflect often on areas where you can improve. Pray often, exercise, and practice intentional breathing. Learn what refreshes your soul and go to those waters often. Life will never be without stress so learning to cope positively is necessary.”

Q: You mentioned two times. What was the other time?

“The other time was when I turned 60 years old. I never dreaded the thought of aging or struggled with any other birthdays, but for some reason, I sat down at my desk on the day of my 60th birthday and I immediately felt a darkness sweep over me. I felt, ‘This is it. It’s all over.’ I remember sitting there and putting my head into my hands and wondering where to go from there. At that very moment, I heard a knock at my office door and my friend and former employee C.F. McDowell was standing beside a vintage automobile. He whisked me away to the Broyhill Building where the staff had gathered to surprise me with a birthday party—complete with poodle skirts and black and white saddle oxfords. It was as if God said, ‘You’re far from over and don’t forget the people who love you.’ That moment will remain one of the most

significant moments of my life.”

Q: What do you see as your purpose in life and how have you lived out that purpose?

“I believe our purpose in life evolves and changes a bit as we journey. There was a time when my purpose was to be out at

churches every Sunday and raising funds and awareness for BCH. There was a time when I believe it truly was necessary to work 60+ hour weeks to help BCH fulfill its mission. However, at this stage of my career, I no longer need to be that person. I have an excellent executive team to help carry that load. Now my purpose is truly to inspire people to be their best self. I want to motivate and encourage them. I believe my purpose is to continue to create a culture of excellence by listening to others and encouraging them to grow in their giftedness and in the Lord.”

Q: Do you feel like you ever failed?

“We all have moments when we feel failure. The most important thing to remember is that just because you’ve failed, it doesn’t make you a failure. If you ever internalize failure, then you’re done. You might as well hang it up, turn out the lights, and shut the door.

‘You learn from your mistakes. There was only one perfect person, Jesus, so obviously we will never be perfect, but the key is how you act when faced with failure. You change course, you pivot. There have been things I did that worked out much better than I expected and things that have completely flopped. Be willing

to recognize what is before you and adjust when needed—or you will flame out. Everyone gets butterflies at times in life. The key is to take those butterflies and make them fly in formation.”

Q: What do you have for future leaders?

“I have always said that school is never out for the professional. I fully believe that. I must always be willing to learn and I encourage others to keep that perspective as well. You never quite arrive if

you are going to be in a leadership position. There is always more to take in and grow from. I would also tell the next generation to take advantage of every single opportunity that you have. Look around you and find the people who are successful, the ones who intimidate you even, and then take ad- vantage of opportunities to spend time gleaning from those people. Many years ago, I was working for a newspaper and I passed the owner many days on the stairs. I was so intimidated that I never once introduced myself. I’ve regretted it ever since. Don’t be afraid to learn from those around you and when you get to the place where you yourself are the leader, be available to encourage others.”

Q: What regrets do you have and what is still left on your bucket list?

“Well, I’ve been blessed and I’ve done a lot in my life. My list is getting pretty short at this point. As far as what I regret, it’s probably that I never saw Elvis perform live. I had an opportunity once when he came to Fayetteville in 1976, but I thought I would catch him when he came back to Fayetteville on August 25, 1977. Sadly, he died on August 16, 1977. I guess the only thing that is really left on my bucket list is that I always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon. Kathy says that probably ‘ain’t’ happening at this point so I may need to let that one slide. I’ve done so much that I wanted

to do. I’ve seen places in the world where Jesus walked, I’ve attended leadership conferences that were dream experiences, and I’ve watched BCH flourish. God’s been good to me.”

Q: What do you hope people will say about you in the years ahead?

“I hope that people will say that I left BCH stronger than it was when I got here. So much has changed since July 1, 1983 and I firmly believe that BCH is much stronger than it was when I arrived. I think the employees are a family and they feel happier and safer than they did back at that time. I think we’ve created a culture of compassion and excellence which will last far into the future. I don’t live under any illusions that my name will be remembered forever, that’s just the nature of the world. When I’m long-gone and buried in God’s Acre (a burial site located at Mills Home in Thomasville), I know that eventually people will not recall my name, but I believe that they will know BCH because of the lives that it has touched and the hearts it has transformed. That’s what matters.”