Longtime friend and associate Mark DeMoss reflects on the passing of Dr. Jerry Falwell.
HH: As soon as I heard the sad news today, sad for us, not for him, that Jerry Falwell had gone to be with the Lord, my thoughts turned to Mark DeMoss. Mark is the president of The DeMoss Group in Atlanta. You’ve heard him on this program not too long ago when his wonderful book, The Little Red Book of Wisdom came out. Many of you went to www.littleredbookofwisdom.com, ordered the book, and have subsequently sent me wonderful letters about how it impacted you. Mark DeMoss, welcome back on a sad day.
MD: Thank you, Hugh. It is a sad day for a lot of us that knew him well.
HH: Now give us, give our audience some glimpse of your relationship with Jerry Falwell.
MD: Well, and he really was like a father to me. My…besides being an employer, my father died before my senior year in high school. And a year later, I went to Liberty University as a student, and then when I graduated, I worked as Jerry’s personal assistant, chief of staff, really, for eight years, from ’84-’91. And in those years, I traveled with him everywhere, I managed his office, I handled his schedule, I was his spokesman, and probably spent more hours with him than anyone outside of his wife. And we’ve just been very, very close for a lot of years.
HH: Now there’s going to be an avalanche of commentary over the next few days, leading up to his memorial service. And there’s going to be a lot of politicization of this, and in fact, I read Albert Mohler’s touching remembrance of his friend, and the comments at the Washingtonpost.com are just disgusting, because that’s just the way people are. But here we are, we’re talking among friends, two friends. What do you want them to know about Jerry Falwell, Mark DeMoss, that they’re not going to hear often, or perhaps even at all?
MM: I’d want people to know this. When I heard this news this afternoon, I did exactly what Jerry Falwell would have done if I had died today, and that is I got on an airplane, and came up here, and showed up at his house. He would have done the same thing for me, even though he’s my elder. And the side of Jerry I’d want people to know about, which people in Lynchburg do by and large know about, is the Jerry Falwell that while managing a very large organization, is still in the hospitals of Lynchburg every week making hospital visits on sick Church members, the Jerry Falwell that has done every funeral and every wedding that anyone has asked him to do, even if he didn’t know them that well, the guy that was the last person to leave after every Church service, because he would shake everybody’s hand who wanted to say hello to him. That’s the real Jerry Falwell, not what most folks see of him. And that’s what I’ll remember about him.
HH: Now Mark DeMoss, we had a caller earlier in the program say that when she was a recently divorced single mom working as a waitress down in, I believe it was Phoenix, that Dr. Falwell was there, and he’d come and meet men for breakfast each morning, Bible study, et cetera, but he always had time for her, and real time for her, real look you in the eye, hear what you’re saying, encouragement time. Common or exception with Jerry Falwell?
MM: No, it’s common. He’d go through the campus of Liberty University, and stop his truck at everybody that was walking by. He’d roll his window down. More often than not, he knew the student’s name. And if he didn’t, he’d ask them their name, and where they were from. And around here, where I am now in Lynchburg, he’s just Jerry, even as the chancellor of a university. And that’s common. He was a consummate people person, which is fitting for a pastor of 55 years at the same Church. You don’t spend 55 years in a town like Lynchburg without being pretty close to people.
HH: Now why the politics? What drove him? Did he ever regret the politics, Mark DeMoss?
MM: I don’t think he ever did regret it. What drove him to it was in the late 70’s, around ’79, a strong sense that if people of faith did not get involved, at least engaged in the process, register and vote and speak up, and go to the polls and elect people that share your values, that we were really forfeiting government to people perhaps with other values. And so in the late 70’s, and through most of the 80’s, that was a huge part of his life, organizing pastors and people of faith to get involved. He then pulled back from that, and turned his full attention to Liberty University, which I think he realized wisely, in my opinion, was where his real legacy would lie, and I think that’s the case.
HH: How is Liberty prospering?
MM: Liberty, fortunately, is in stronger shape in almost every category of measurement, probably than at any time in its 30 year history. Financially and enrollment, and in every respect, and that’s the good news. He left behind a strong organization that’s healthy, has a strong board. And this Saturday will be an amazing day, because a couple of thousand students will graduate for the first time ever without Jerry Falwell in the audience.
HH: And when is his memorial service/funeral going to be, Mark DeMoss?
MM: It’s going to be Tuesday, 1:00 Eastern time in Lynchburg, Virginia, at his Church, Thomas Road Church.
HH: Who’s going to preach the sermon?
MM: I believe probably one of his very best pastor friends, Dr. Jerry Vines, who for many years was the pastor at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, and they’ve asked him to come preach this service.
HH: And how is Mrs. Falwell doing? Have you had a chance to see her yet?
MM: I did have a chance to see her. I went straight to the house when I landed here, and she’s very emotional. And I got emotional. And we just hugged each other. They’ve been special to me, so…
HH: This was not expected in any way, was it?
MM: No, it wasn’t. You know, he had a very serious scare with his heart two years ago. They put a stint inside of him, and felt like things had stabilized. So we knew he’d had some challenges, but this today was certainly not expected, no.
HH: And so, given the suddenness of that, does the university have a transition? I mean, a lot of ministries don’t have transitions, Mark DeMoss. Did Dr. Falwell think far ahead?
MM: Yeah, fortunately, both the university and the Church have a transition plan in place, and in both cases, they involve one of his sons. Jerry, Jr. is a lawyer, and has been legal counsel, and vice chancellor at the university for a number of years, and his son Jonathan has been his executive pastor at his Church for a number of years, so both of them now step in some very big shoes.
HH: Now tell us a little bit more about Jerry Falwell on the road, because if you travel with a guy, you really do get to know him. Was he, did he mind being one of the most recognizable Christians in America? He must not have been able to get through a dinner, is one of the things I think must be going on.
MM: No, he didn’t mind it. But I’ll tell you what sticks out to me, too, because we would travel all over the country, preaching in some Church, and I’m accustomed to seeing a visiting pastor of dignitary come to speak. And as the service ends, usually, the guest speaker slips out the back stage, and they go out to dinner, or he rushes back to the airport, and they’ll always say please excuse our guest, he has to get back home. Jerry never would leave. He wanted…and in fact, a lot of times, his host would say Jerry, when it ends, now you and I’ll slip out and go get something to eat, and he always said no, I want to stay and meet people. And so we would stay down there for an hour, hour and a half until everyone who wanted to speak to him did, and then we’d go home, which meant sometimes getting home at two or three in the morning. And he did that everywhere. I never saw an exception to it.
HH: Mark DeMoss, last question, I’ve been to some pretty big funerals, President and Mrs. Nixon’s, and others that you get all these people come. I assume this is going to be an extravaganza, because so many people want to honor their friend and their longtime associate. Is it going to be televised? Is it going to be, can people watch it or stay in touch with it in any way?
MM: I don’t know the answer to that, yet. I do think it’ll be large in terms of attendance. I don’t think it will be extravagant. You know, Jerry Falwell really is a pretty simple country guy from Lynchburg, Virginia. He never left where he started, and so I think the service will be…I don’t think it’ll be extravagant, or particularly ceremonial, but I think it will be emotional, and I do expect many thousands of people. We don’t know the details, yet, about any television coverage, but there certainly could be.
HH: Well, Mark DeMoss, comforting grace to you on the day of your loss, and to the Falwell family. Thanks for spending some time to tell our audience about Dr. Jerry Falwell, dead today at the age of 73. Mark DeMoss’ book, The Little Red Book of Wisdom will tell you a little bit more about Falwell, if you’d like to read about the Reverend, www.littleredbookofwisdom.com.
End of interview.