Former NCC general secretary Claire Randall dies at 91

September 11, 2007

Former National Council of Churches USA (NCC) general secretary Claire Randall died in Sun City, Arizona, on September 9. She was 91.

NCC leaders expressed sadness and gratitude for "a woman of enormous courage and great faith whose daily testimony was an inspiration to all who knew her."

Randall, an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church USA, was general secretary of the NCC from 1974 to 1984.

NCC board and staff who knew Randall remembered her as a gracious and decisive leader.

The Rev. Michael E. Livingston, NCC president, said: "Claire Randall was general secretary of the NCC at a turbulent time of history, for the nation and the world as well as the church. Looking back on those days, it is especially obvious that her leadership skills and clear vision were those of a woman chosen by God 'for a time such as this.'"

"Dr. Randall was general secretary of the NCC when I came to New York in my twenties to begin working in the United Methodist ecumenical office," said Clare J. Chapman, NCC acting general secretary. "When she took office she made history on many levels, particularly in being a lay woman which richly symbolized the deep roots of the modern ecumenical movement as witness shared between clergy and laity."

Randall was the fourth general secretary of the NCC and the first woman to lead the organization.

"To me, as a young lay woman just beginning my own journey in ecumenical ministry, Claire Randall was a wonderful example of grace-filled leadership even in times of controversy," added Chapman. "I am quite sure I speak for many women, lay and clergy, who were inspired by her who are today saddened at the news of her passing. She will be missed."

The Rev. Dr. Eileen Lindner, NCC deputy general secretary for research and planning, was hired by Randall in 1976. Lindner recalled Randall as a skilled administrator with a firm commitment to the mission of the church.

"She took the reigns of a sprawling agency with hundreds of employees in the U.S. and around the world through Church World Service (then a program of the NCC)," Lindner said.

Randall was general secretary during the fallout of a 1983 broadcast of CBS' "60 Minutes" that implied the NCC and the World Council of Churches were leftist organizations that defied the conservative wishes of its membership. The following year, an article in The Reader's Digest made a similar claim.

Randall firmly denied the fallacious allegations and organized member communions of the NCC to inform their congregations that the reports were false. She was partially vindicated in 2002 when retiring "60 Minutes" producer Don Hewitt characterized the report as the one show he regretted in his 36-year career.

Randall was associate executive director of Church Women United before she came to the NCC, and she was a life-long Christian educator. "To no one's surprise, she was adamant that the teaching ministry of the church was central to its faithful service to Christ," Lindner recalled. "She strengthened the Division of Education and Ministry, Friendship Press, the Council's publishing arm, and gave leadership that would later culminate in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, building on the historic triumph with the RSV."

Lindner also recalled Randall as deeply committed to civil and human rights. "She insisted on a racially and ethnically diverse staff."

Friends of Randall recall a woman with a wry sense of humor and a deep interest in the arts. "She loved New York with its theater, ballet, concerts and galleries," Lindner said.

Randall is survived by two nieces, Martha Claire Randall of San Antonio and Anne Randall Mancini of Camarillo, California; a nephew, William M. Randall of Rochelle, Texas; two grand-nephews, Michael Mancini and Scott Randall; one grand-niece, Lisa Mancini; and several cousins.

A private family service will be held at a later date.

The National Council of Churches USA is the ecumenical voice of 35 of America's Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace churches. These NCC member communions have 45 million faithful members in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.

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