William O. (Bill) Crews, Southwestern alumnus, president emeritus of Gateway Seminary, and former president of the California Southern Baptist Convention and the Northwest Baptist Convention, died March 1 after a brief illness in Vancouver, Wash. He was 81.

“Bill Crews was a lovable and greatly loved Baptist leader,” says Southwestern President Paige Patterson. “He endured more hardship and sorrow in life than most people ever contemplate. His trust in the Lord and his perpetually smiling face brought assurance to all around him. Now he has an incredible inheritance and leaves behind an enviable legacy.”

Born in Houston, Texas, Crews preached his first sermon at the age of 15. He went on to pastor eight churches over the span of 32 years, including the 2,300-member Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church in Riverside, Calif., as well as others in Washington, Oregon and Texas.

Crews earned his Bachelor of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1964. He also held a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hardin-Simmons and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Gateway Seminary. He received Southwestern’s distinguished alumni award in 1994.

In the Southern Baptist world, Crews served as president of both the California Southern Baptist Convention and the Northwest Baptist Convention. In 1985, he was a member of the 22-member Southern Baptist Convention Peace Committee to study theological strife in the convention. Crews also served as a trustee for Gateway and the International Mission Board and was chairman of the executive boards for both the Northwest and California conventions.

Crews became the sixth president of Gateway Seminary (formerly Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary) in 1986. He transitioned into the role of chancellor in 2003. During his 18-year tenure, the seminary established new campuses in Phoenix and Denver; achieved accreditation approval to offer full master’s degrees at all five of its campuses; and saw enrollment increase from 865 students in 1986 to 1,600 students in 2004.

Following his retirement in 2005, Crews continued to teach courses at Gateway’s Pacific Northwest campus in Vancouver, Wash., until his death. He was also elected by the Northwest Baptist Convention as executive director-treasurer in 2007, serving until his second retirement at the end of 2012.

In a statement to Baptist Press, Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, said Crews was “a great example of a servant leader who grew to love the West and the Northwest.” Page continued, “Southern Baptists are deeply indebted to him for his long-tenured service to Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and the Northwest Baptist Convention. Our prayers go out to his family. He will be missed.”

Crews is survived by his wife, Jo Ann. He was preceded in death by a son, Ronald, and a daughter, Rhonda.