The Rev. James C. Raper, Sr., 96, a native of Greensboro, N.C., and a pastor of Southern Baptist churches in Virginia and North Carolina over a lengthy career, died on Friday, May 3, in Richmond.
Once a budding country musician, he traded Saturday night square dances for Sunday morning sermons in service to the Lord. With degrees from Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., he pastored six churches. His longest tenures were in Danville, at Calvary Baptist, Hillcrest Baptist and Stokesland Baptist. In Danville, he also taught school for several years.
He is survived by a Michigan girl he met at college, Jean Elizabeth Willick Raper. They shared more than 70 years of marriage and grew a lovely family — five children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. On every anniversary, they would sneak out together for an ice-cream cone – their favorite date since college.
When he wasn’t preaching, J.C. often could be found listening to or watching – he enjoyed YouTube – the best sermons of his favorite clergymen, such as Tim Keller and Billy Graham. He recalled sitting with a young preacher, Billy Graham, on a plane trip to Detroit in 1947 for his wedding. He said Graham became famous after getting advice from him.
For his 80th birthday, when visiting the Mediterranean coast of France, he waded in the frigid waters to get an idea of what the Apostle Paul endured during his shipwreck on Malta.
J.C. often sang formal solos at church in his beautiful baritone voice. But once in a while, eliciting winces from his wife, he pulled out his guitar to perform less formally at evening services and fellowship events.
When he retired as a fulltime pastor, J.C. and Jeanie moved to the mountains of Patrick County, then to South Boston, Va. As age caught up, they found their way to Richmond to be closer to family. They lived independently – and he continued to drive – until a broken hip slowed him down last year.
Other than Jeanie, he is survived by sons Jim (Deborah); Mark (Martha); Brent, and daughters Melanie Sterling (Arden) and Elizabeth. Grandchildren are Dan (Mary) and Ben Raper, Aliza and Jesse Sterling (Marshall Senterfitt); Carter Raper (Andrew Gottlieb), Stuart Nuckols (Joel) and Lucy Raper. Great-grandchildren are Jake and Zoë Raper; Eisa and Oliver Senterfitt; Jack and Tommy Gottlieb; and Lena Nuckols. All live in Virginia except Ben (Philadelphia) and the Sterling-Senterfitts (Boston).
The family would like to thank the staff at Westport Rehab/Nursing Center in Richmond, who have treated J.C. and Jeanie like family over the past 15 months.
A service to honor his life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 11, Bethlehem Baptist Church, 9600 Midlothian Turnpike, North Chesterfield, Va. Flowers or donations may be sent to the church.