Chancellor Dr. Gary Cook Presented with Honorary Doctorate at Spring Convocation

Dr. Cook at Pulpit

At DBU's Spring Convocation Service held in Pilgrim Chapel on April 5, Chancellor Gary Cook was presented with the Honorary Doctorate of Divinity, just one day before he celebrated 35 years of faithful service at DBU.

Under his remarkable legacy of more than 28 years as President, DBU went from a reputation for being financially troubled and nearly having to close its doors to becoming a campus known for its botanical and architectural beauty and, even more, for being a thriving institution of higher education granting bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees to students from all over the world.

Now serving as Chancellor, Dr. Cook continues his legacy to DBU in raising funds for the University's endowment and in mentoring the next generation.

During the Convocation Service, Dr. Cook encouraged students to devote their lives to prayer as he shared personal stories from his most challenging years as President in the late 1980s. It was prayer that sustained both him and the University through financial crisis and an uncertain future. Dr. Cook was also led by the Lord at the very beginning of his tenure to establish the Intercessory Prayer Ministry, which continues to be led by a full-time staff member and involves more than 1,000 prayer partners who pray every day for the future welfare of the University and its ministry of preparing leaders for service in diverse ministerial and professional fields.

A native of Little Rock, Arkansas, Dr. Cook grew up with a desire to serve the Lord and felt a calling into full-time Christian ministry. To pursue this goal, he traveled to Baylor University, where he completed his undergraduate degree and became well-known throughout the campus, serving in many organizations and being elected permanent class president. In addition, he grew to become friends with his mentor, Judge Abner McCall, then Baylor President. Judge McCall encouraged Dr. Cook to become involved in university life, as well as denominational life through the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist World Alliance.

From Baylor, Dr. Cook headed to complete his Master of Divinity at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. It was there that he met the love of his life, Sheila, through a singles Sunday School class, and the two immediately hit it off. Their combined spirit of service and love for the Lord, not to mention their sense of humor, provided a tremendous bond which has allowed them to be amazing partners in ministry for nearly 50 years.

After completing his master's degree, Dr. Cook moved to Fort Worth where he completed both a Doctor of Ministry from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as a Master of Arts in Aging Studies from the University of North Texas, all while serving as Senior Adult Pastor at University Baptist Church in Fort Worth. Following graduation, Dr. Cook returned to Central Texas where he became pastor of First Baptist Church of McGregor. For two years Dr. and Mrs. Cook served faithfully the people of this amazing community, and even after leaving his role, he continued to stay in touch and served twice as an interim pastor.

While Dr. Cook maintained a pastoral heart, his road would lead him back to higher education. Soon the Cooks moved back to Waco where Dr. Cook taught for ten years and served on the Baylor administration, helping lead in various campus activities, including the chaplain program and denominational relations. He also served on the Waco City Council and as the Mayor Pro Tem. During this time, the Cooks would welcome their two sons, David Daniel and Mark Andrew, both of whom would eventually follow their father's footsteps into Christian higher education.

In 1988, life changed for Dr. Cook as then-struggling Dallas Baptist University called him to become its fifth president on April 6. The following day, the young 37-year-old President began his first day at the helm of a University with rich potential but a long history of crippling financial struggles. During his first Chapel service, Dr. Cook laid out his vision for what he hoped DBU would become—an oasis for training up the next generation of servant leaders who would love God and love others.

This enormous vision could not happen under his own power, and within a few weeks, Dr. Cook established the DBU Intercessory Prayer Ministry as he sought to turn the life of the University over to the Lord in prayer. Recruiting more than a thousand prayer partners, Dr. Cook built a team who would serve the struggling school. 

Over the course of his 28 years as president, Dallas Baptist University grew from 1,859 students in the fall of 1987 to 5,319 in the fall of 2015. The University's net assets grew from $19.9 million to $171.5 million, and the University finished each fiscal year in the black fever since.

The campus expanded from 200 acres to 292 acres. Average SAT scores for incoming DBU freshmen were raised from 887 in 1992 to 1118 in 2015. In addition, by 2015 80% of full-time faculty had doctorates or terminal degrees, compared to 52% in 1988.

The number of master's degree programs increased from 3 in 1988 to 28, while graduate enrollment increased from 187 in the fall of 1987 to 2,004 in the fall of 2015. In the spring of 2004, the DBU Board of Trustees voted to name a new academic division of the University the Gary Cook School of Leadership. A Ph.D. in Leadership Studies program began in the summer of 2005, and an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership began in the fall of 2005.

In the spring of 2015, Dr. Cook sensed a calling from the Lord to announce his decision to step down as President of DBU. At that time, the Board of Trustees asked Dr. Cook to remain President until a new President could be selected, and they appointed him to become DBU's first Chancellor, a role which would allow him to continue to provide support to the school through fundraising, community engagement, and denominational relations. He continued as both President and Chancellor until the election of Dr. Adam C. Wright as President, and Dr. Cook continues to serve as Chancellor, playing a vital role on University Hill, mentoring young staff members, cultivating community and donor relations, and raising funds for DBU's endowment.

In addition to his work with DBU, Dr. Cook has served in a variety of ways with the Baptist General Convention of Texas and with the Baptist World Alliance. Also, he has served as Chairman of the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities as well as Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Baylor University Medical Center and a member of the International Board of Directors for Habitat for Humanity. He and Sheila are long-time members of Park Cities Baptist Church, where Dr. Cook serves as a deacon.

Written by Dr. Blake Killingsworth

Dr. Blake Killingsworth is the Vice President for Communications at Dallas Baptist University.