James “Jim” R. Austin, Minister of Music, passed away on May 17, 2023 at home in Rock Hill, SC. Born in Anderson, South Carolina on June 13, 1942, Jim was the youngest son of the late Margaret L. McCoy Austin Mann (Ramie Mann) and the late William C. Austin, Sr. He was predeceased by his daughter Melody Austin Ewing (1994) and his brother Richard Austin.
Jim is survived by Page, his wife of almost 59 years, his daughter Ruth Rebecca Austin Keenan (Wesley), and his grandchildren Rowan and Alora. He is also survived by his brother William C. Austin, Jr. (Carolyn), his sister-in-law Peggy Austin, and several nieces and nephews. He enjoyed traveling, telling stories, and spending time with his family. His life was one dedicated to serve his family, his community, his churches, his nation, and his God.
Jim exhibited a talent for music at a young age, exceling in both voice and piano lessons while in school. By the time he graduated from Hart County High School in Hartwell, Georgia in 1960, he had been taking lessons for many years, culminating in voice lessons at the University of Georgia while he was in high school. He began studying for a Bachelor in Music degree with a focus on voice at Stetson University in Deland, Florida where he met Page Nordan from Charlotte, North Carolina. They found out that he was born on Park Drive in Anderson while she was born on Park Drive in Charlotte, so it was clear that they were destined to be together. They were partnered as a duet team by Prof Giffin, their voice professor and the director of Concert Choir. While at Stetson, Jim became the section leader for the First Tenors and the General Manager for the Concert Choir for their tour to Texas. During his sophomore year, he started working as the Minister of Music for First Baptist Church in Sanford, Florida, beginning over 60 years of service to God. He and Page were married at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Florida on May 29, 1964 just before he graduated with his Bachelor of Music in Voice in August.
He served in the following churches during his ministry: First Baptist Church - Sanford, FL, FBC - Daytona Beach, FL, Boiling Springs Baptist Church – Boiling Springs, SC, Flagler Street Baptist – Miami, FL, Southside Baptist - Spartanburg, SC, FBC - Landrum, SC, Cumberland Baptist Church - Knoxville, TN, FBC - Rock Hill, SC, FBC - Sweetwater, TN, and FBC - Chester, SC.
He served in the Navy from 1966 to 1968, attending boot camp in San Diego, CA, where he served as the company Yeoman. He attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA, where he studied Spanish on his way to becoming a linguist. Upon completion of his program, he was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in San Angelo, TX, then was later transferred to Homestead Air Force Base in Homestead, FL.
After an honorable discharge from the Navy, he pursued his Master of Music in Voice Performance from Converse College in Spartanburg, SC, earning the degree in 1970. He served as an Assistant Voice Professor at Carson Newman College in Jefferson City, TN from 1970 to 1974, where he joined Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity.
While serving at FBC in Rock Hill, he auditioned and was accepted into the Century Men, a group of one hundred men dedicated to the proclamation of the gospel in song. While a member of the Century Men, he was able to participate in tours to China and Russia, as well as to many venues in the United States, participating in several recording opportunities with the group to release their music to the public. They were nominated for both a Dove award and a Grammy award.
He is fondly remembered for the many trips he planned for the Senior Adults, Youth Choirs, and Handbell Choirs from his churches over the years. Several former choir members have shared stories of their memories and experiences traveling with these groups. Nobody who was there will ever forget pushing the old church bus down the streets of New York City while Jim popped the clutch to try to get it to start. He ministered to many through Pre-School Choirs, Children’s Choirs, Youth Choirs, Adult Choirs, Senior Adult Choirs, Community Chorus, and handbell choirs. He conducted Handel’s Messiah with an Orchestra multiple times and DuBois’s The Seven Last Words of Christ also with an Orchestra on several occasions.
After retiring, he enjoyed singing in the choir at Saint John’s Baptist in Charlotte, NC (Page’s home church from her childhood) and traveling with Page to places they had always wanted to see in person. He spent time teaching his grandchildren to love music and time with family. Rowan grew up helping Grandad with project around the beach house and the house in Rock Hill, and Grandad never missed a performance for either grandchild. He was so proud when Alora carried on the tradition of conducting when she was Drum Major for Rock Hill High School Band of Distinction, and he gave her the baton he had used for years.
He will be greatly missed by those who loved him, and he has enriched so many lives through his love and service. We will always love sharing his stories with others, and we know he is overjoyed to be singing in Heaven with the angels.
In lieu of flowers, memorials donations may be made to the Shriners Children's Hospital in Greenville, SC in his name.
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