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CBF leaders remember Tom Cleary, one of CBF’s first field personnel

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March 20, 2014

Tom Cleary

Tom Cleary

CBF leaders remember Tom Cleary, one of CBF’s first field personnel

DECATUR, Ga. — Tom Cleary, one of the first field personnel appointed by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, died Wednesday after suffering a ruptured aneurysm in Tampa, Fla. He was 76.

Cleary and his wife, Joyce, joined CBF as field personnel in 1993 after more than 20 years as missionaries and campus ministers. Following pastorates in Florida during the 1960s, the Clearys went to Austria as Foreign Mission Board missionaries from 1971 to 1980. They returned to Florida and served as campus ministers for the Florida Baptist Convention at the University of South Florida from 1981-1990.

After watching television reports of the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the Clearys felt a call to serve in East Europe, and left Florida for Poland the next year to serve again as FMB missionaries. Three years later, the Clearys were part of a group of 25 missionaries, mostly serving in Europe, commissioned as field personnel at the 1993 CBF General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala.

While in Poland from 1990 until 2000, the Clearys served alongside Polish Baptists and taught English to university students as the embattled nation transitioned from communism to a free-market economy. When the Clearys returned to the U.S. in 2000, rather than retire, they continued their mission work as full-time volunteers with CBF-related Florida ministries Touching Miami with Love and Open House Ministries.

“The passing of Tom Cleary is a loss that I feel personally, and I know that all of CBF Florida feels as well,” said Ray Johnson, coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida. “Tom was a friend and a true servant who cared deeply for people. His love for people poured out as he and Joyce ministered in south Florida. He was tremendously funny, extraordinarily gentle and a tremendous encourager. In our sadness, we nevertheless pray with thanksgiving for his life and ministry.”

Jim Smith, interim coordinator of CBF Global Missions, also spoke highly of Cleary.

“Tom loved people and befriended others on a daily basis,” Smith said. “Students that Tom and Joyce met in class became life-long friends. They helped lead retreats and field trips beyond the typical role of teachers. I know Polish believers who point to the Clearys as the ones who introduced them to faith in Christ.”

“We love Tom and hold his memory in our hearts,” Smith said. “All of us in Global Missions were better for knowing Tom Cleary.”

Cleary is survived by his wife, Joyce, and their two sons.

A memorial service to celebrate the life and ministry of Cleary will be held Mar. 22 at Bayshore Baptist Church in Tampa, Fla.


CBF is a fellowship of Baptist Christians and churches who share a passion for the Great Commission and a commitment to Baptist principles of faith and practice. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.

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