I've been contemplating what to write about Jerry Falwell, or if I should even try to write anything. I've decided to just write what's on my mind.
There are so many people I've talked to through the years who have nothing but negative things to say about Jerry. I can understand that. He was very controversial. I do believe, however, that he was made to look much worse by the media and press. That makes sense, doesn't it? The media rarely gives unbiased reports, and they certainly wouldn't support Jerry's views.
I was visiting with an aunt and uncle in Kentucky last summer. This was the first time I'd really spent any time with this particular aunt and she asked me if I lived near Jerry's church. As I told her that I do live nearby, I fully expected to hear something negative about him. Boy, was I surprised! She just went on and on about how wonderful she thought Jerry was, and what a great ministry he has out there in Virginia. She told me all about his kids -- naming them by name and telling me what their careers are. She was telling me about the new church. It was all stuff that I knew, but it was so neat to hear her enthusiasm over the ministry.
Sometimes Jerry spoke first and thought second...don't we all? Fortunately our comments don't make front page news! If Jerry did say something that he felt bad about or regretted, he was good about apologizing for it. If he didn't believe he was wrong he would stand by his words and not give in to the pressure of the media. I admire that.
What most people who have not had personal contact with Jerry, or who do not live in the area, don't realize is that he was a very "real" person. He wasn't a standoffish celebrity. He was known for remembering people's names. It was not uncommon for him to meet someone one time and then be able to call them by name from then on. He always waved when we passed him on the road. He loved to pull practical jokes. He was very generous.
I met him for the first time in 1985 at Liberty University. My Dad was a supporter of the Moral Majority, so I grew up hearing about Jerry even though I lived in Ohio. When I had the opportunity to go to Liberty University (Jerry's college) I was so excited. Our church received a few Pastor's Scholarships in 1985 that covered our room and board. My best friend and I both received one and packed our bags for Lynchburg, Virginia! I remember be extremely excited and my friend not really wanting to stay. She ended up loving it and I got homesick and barely made it through my first year! LOL I headed back home the following spring and said I'd never move back to Lynchburg. My friend stayed on in L'burg and got married to a local boy. Then I ended up moving back in 1988, met a "local boy," got married, and I've been here ever since (minus a 5 year stint in Georgia). God does have a sense of humor!
Back to the story...it was very common to see Dr. Falwell walking around campus chatting with the students. He was a hands-on Chancellor. He liked to meet the students and get feedback from them. I even heard that he was up on the mountain talking to students the day before he died.
I also had the privilege to visit with him at some family reunions. My husband's grandfather was first cousins with Jerry. Our families do not do things together, but he would come to our family reunions. At our last reunion he had his museum opened up just for us. The museum is on campus at the university and was a birthday gift to Jerry a few years back (I believe for his 70th birthday). It goes through his entire life. So part of it was of great interest to my husband's family since pictures of some of their family and ancestors were displayed. Our reunions were usually on Sundays and Jerry didn't have a lot of free time on Sundays, but he always stopped by and would stay about an hour or so.
For those of you who have read this and do not have a good opinion of Jerry Falwell, I hope that you can see that he was more than what the media portrayed. He was a man who truly loved God and wanted to serve Him to his fullest extent. Many lives have been changed for the better because of Jerry's ministry. I will always be grateful to him and his vision of Liberty University. I would never have come to Lynchburg or met my husband if he had not followed God's calling on his life.