Edwin Coates, grew ministry of NC Baptist Foundation, dies at 98

RALEIGH, N.C. – Edwin Smith “Ed” Coates, whose winsome personality and business success paved the way for nearly a quarter-century of growth and expansion of the N.C. Baptist Foundation, died peacefully Sunday, May 5, at his residence. He was 98.

Coates served as executive director of the foundation, now known as Provision Financial Resources of N.C. Baptists, for 24 years from 1973 until his retirement in 1997. Coates was selected for the role by the foundation’s board of directors in late 1972 and officially became executive director upon the retirement of C. Gordon Maddrey at the end of that year.

The foundation experienced exponential growth under Coates’ leadership. During his tenure, the foundation’s assets under management that support Baptist causes grew from $2 million to $61.5 million, according to historical records. Coates also added staff members in administration, accounting and donor relations. He also hired the organization’s first area manager who served in western North Carolina.

Perhaps Coates’ crowning achievement was the construction of the foundation’s office building in Cary, which was completed in 1990 without incurring any debt.

“He took the foundation from infancy to adulthood,” said longtime foundation President Clay Warf, who retired at the end of last year after serving 25 years in the role.

Warf said Coates was a source of encouragement and support through the years, which started before Warf even stepped into the role himself.

Warf was pastoring in Roxboro when he was selected to serve as foundation president in 1998. Warf recalled a time when Coates and his wife, Goldie, showed up for a Wednesday evening Bible study, and Coates asked if he could speak to the congregation.

“He wanted them to know that I wasn’t leaving the ministry,” Warf said. “It was just a different kind of ministry. I knew I had his full support.”

To symbolize that support, Coates presented Warf with a custom foundation lapel pin that Coates’ wife had a local jeweler make years before.

“He wanted me to have that pin, and he pinned it on me right there in church that night,” Warf said. “It gave me a tremendous boost in confidence because I was going from being a pastor into an executive leadership role that involved investing millions of dollars.”

Although Coates himself never served as a pastor or church staff member prior to leading the work of the foundation, he and his wife were active in the local church and broader Baptist life. In fact, Coates’ wife, Goldie, said her husband had previously considered training for the ministry.

“When he was a younger man, he was interested in training to be a minister, but he never felt the call of the Lord directly,” Goldie Coates said. “But he was always, always, always involved with everything that went on at the church.”

The Coateses have been active members of Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh for almost 70 years. During that time, they worked with Forest Hills’ college ministry for 25 years. On Sunday nights, the Coateses often hosted large gatherings of college students from Meredith College, N.C. State University and Peace University in their home for Bible study and fellowship.

“There are a lot of folks married today who met each other at Ed and Goldie’s house,” Warf said.

The Coateses later went on to coordinate activities for senior adults through the church. Ed Coates also taught Sunday school, sang in the choir, served as a deacon and served on numerous church committees through the years. 

When Coates was selected to lead the work of the foundation, he said he felt “called of God into the field and he believed his 23 years of experience teaching, training and selling had been preparation for the job,” according to an article in the Oct. 21, 1972, edition of the Biblical Recorder.

Prior to becoming the foundation’s executive director, Coates enjoyed a successful career in the agribusiness industry. He worked for 11 years as a research specialist with the N.C. Agricultural Extension Service. He then entered private business and founded Engineered Farm Systems, which served farmers all across the state.

The professional and personal connections he made in those positions, along with his outgoing personality, served him well during his tenure with the foundation.

“Ed never met a stranger,” said John Roberson, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Campbell University. “He was a lot like Will Rogers said of himself, ‘I never met a man I didn’t like.’ With his big, gregarious personality, he was able to engage with people, and he certainly was a people person.”

Roberson worked with Coates in administrative roles Roberson held at both Campell and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

“We became friends, and I certainly enjoyed knowing him across the years,” Roberson said. “He would still come by and visit with me after he retired. He had a sparkling sense of humor and was a winsome, enjoyable person to be around. I always felt better after a conversation with Ed.”

Longtime Campbell University President Jerry Wallace echoed many of those same sentiments.

“What I remember most about him is that he had a big heart and cast a wide net,” Wallace said. “He loved all people. It’s almost like when you met him, you knew him and you felt like you’ve known him your whole life.”

Wallace said Coates was interested in the work of all the N.C. Baptist institutions, agencies and historically affiliated universities. The foundation held events that brought each of those institutions together to discuss and receive training in areas such as endowments, fund-raising and more.

“It was a way of bringing all of the institutions together where you saw the whole family,” Wallace said. “Ed wanted us all to be successful.”

Robert Howard, a retired banker from Southport who has served multiple terms on the foundation’s board of directors since the mid-1980s, described Coates as a visionary leader who tried innovative tactics to grow the foundation’s ministry. While on the board, Howard served on the building committee and fundraising committee during the construction of the foundation’s office building.

“He grew the foundation exponentially throughout his career,” Howard said. “He did it because of his vision and his ability to bring folks into the foundation and make them aware of the foundation’s capabilities and ministry. He was a tireless promoter of the foundation.”

Coates also served two terms as the president of the National Association of Baptist Foundations and received numerous civic awards and honors throughout his life. One of those awards was the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, which is North Carolina’s highest award for service granted by the governor’s office.

A native of Smithfield, Ed Coates was the son of the late Joseph Bezzell Coates and Lula Smith Coates. He graduated from Smithfield High School and enlisted in the Navy shortly after graduation. After his military service, Coates enrolled at N.C. State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering in 1951. 

In addition to his wife of more than 72 years, Goldie, Coates is survived by two daughters, Debra Coates Barton and her husband, Jerry; and Lori Coates Shannon and her husband, Kevin; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

A celebration of Coates’ life will be held Saturday, May 11, at 11 a.m. at Forest Hills Baptist Church in Raleigh. Visitation will take place after the service at the church.

The Cremation Society of the Carolinas is assisting the family with arrangements. Coates’ complete obituary is also available online.

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