Column/What I remember about Falwell

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 18, 2007

Most everyone has, by now, seen media reports of the death of Dr. Jerry Falwell.

He died Tuesday at the age of 73.

Many reports have contained interviews with those who have less than flattering things to say about Falwell.

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Their defense for broadcasting such negative comments is that he was a divisive, polarizing figure. No doubt that is true. He took unpopular stands on just about every social issue we’ve faced during the past 30 years.

However, I was taught that you don’t speak ill of the dead, so I find myself switching the channel when someone starts to beat up on him.

As for me, I did not agree with many of the stances Dr. Falwell took.

But, that didn’t keep me from having the utmost respect for the man.

I graduated from Liberty University and during my years there, I had the opportunity to get to know a little bit about Falwell. Here are a few of my thoughts of the man who I observed during that time.

He was personable. It was not at all unusual to see Falwell on the campus at Liberty. He always took time to talk to students and joke with them. He seemed to have a sincere desire to get to know them.

“Where are you from?” was a standard question, and could be followed by something like, “So, you’re a Cowboys fan.” (Or something similar depending on what part of the country was mentioned.)

He was a sports fan. As mentioned above, he could easily talk about the game that was played the night before.

He talked often about particular players from Liberty who had gone on to play professionally, and was proud when one of the college’s teams won a national championship.

When I was in school, Falwell was a regular at most of the football games, and many basketball games.

I remember one basketball game in particular. It was a jam packed gym and Dr. Falwell was on his feet, stomping the bleachers, yelling at the top of his lungs and leading the students in cheering on the Flames. (If I remember right, we lost by one basket.)

He was a family man. I saw him with his children and it was obvious that he was proud of them (all three were in college at the time – the oldest in law school).

He spoke often of his wife, Macel, and it was clear that he relied on his family for much of his strength.

He was a man of integrity. During the late 1980s, there were a lot of scandals by ministers that rocked the evangelical world, the biggest two being Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker.

But, while I was on campus, there was never any talk or rumors insinuating misappropriation of funds or any type of sex scandal.

Agree with him, disagree with him, like him or hate him, it’d be hard to accuse him of any behavior that was immoral, illegal or illicit.

He was a decent, driven man who saw his vision through right up to the time of his death.

What I will remember most about Dr. Falwell is that when I was a young student, a long way from home, he and his family were kind to me, and made me feel welcome. I’ll always be thankful for that.

Tammy Leytham is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.