May 18, 2007
Recounting the final morning of Falwell’s life
by Matthew Hegarty
A university community was shocked and a church devastated earlier this week after hearing the news – Dr. Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University, died in the late morning hours of Tuesday, May 15, after apparently experiencing a “heart rhythm abnormality,” according to a statement from Falwell’s personal physician, Dr. Carl Moore. Falwell was 73.
“I can tell you this – a giant has fallen,” said Liberty’s Executive Vice President Dr. Ron Godwin at an emergency meeting for the university family held in Thomas Road Baptist Church’s sanctuary at 2 p.m. More than 6,000 people attended.
Overcome with emotion, Godwin struggled to begin his address to the crowd, saying that Falwell was a “man of vision” with “plans for the future.”
He started by recounting the morning he had with Falwell. Godwin, who was a personal friend of Falwell for more than 28 years, said that about 6:50 a.m., he received a call from Falwell, who let him know where they were eating for breakfast.
The meal occurred from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Bob Evans location on Wards Road near the university.
Falwell, ever his affable self, greeted the restaurant staff and patrons with an equal measure of friendliness.
Godwin later said that he and Falwell discussed “a number of projects” as a part of their customary morning repast.
He also said that, as at other times, the topic of conversation turned to the contingency plans for Liberty in the event of his death.
“It was a good time, and a time when he talked about when he wouldn’t be here,” Godwin said.
Godwin briefly mentioned another event that happened the day before, when Falwell drove up to the monogram on Candlers Mountain with his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr., and met with students who were there.
They discussed the university together, and Godwin said that Falwell was “full of appreciation” for the conversation he had with those students.
Around 11:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Falwell’s son and TRBC Executive Pastor Jonathan Falwell arrived at the Mansion outside the Hill dorms. The elder Falwell had not shown up for a staff meeting, and the mansion staff had become concerned.
The staff attempted to call his phone to no avail, so they finally went into his office.
Upon entering, they found Falwell unconscious, and Jonathan rushed in with Godwin immediately behind him.
Attempts were made to resuscitate him both in his office and at the hospital, but he never regained consciousness from the time they found him.
Falwell was pronounced dead at 12:40 p.m. in a room at Lynchburg General Hospital, surrounded by his immediate family.
Liberty senior Nathan Cooley, who is the president of LU’s Student Government Association, said he was surprised that so many people came to the TRBC sanctuary on such short notice.
“I think word was going out about it anyway. It’s good that a lot of people heard about it,” he said.
“It’s definitely going to make for a weird weekend.”
Cooley, who is technically on university staff owing to his position at SGA, said he was immediately informed of Falwell’s passing.
In his capacity as the equivalent of student body president, Cooley was going to be speaking briefly at graduation on Saturday regardless of any events that transpired. At the time of the TRBC service on Tuesday, however, he was uncertain of what he would now say.
“I had something written out, but I imagine it’s going to change a little bit,” he said. “I need to pray about it a lot.”
Junior Charlotte Purdy said she was stunned when she heard the news after taking a final exam.
“I started bawling,” she said. “I was crying, but then I stopped for a while because I couldn’t believe it.”
Purdy recalled her personal memory of Falwell, which took place as she was walking back to her dorm from the dining hall with some friends earlier in the semester. He was driving in his trademark black GMC Denali, and he rolled down the window so she could take a picture with him.
“He was very grandfatherly to everyone. You got the impression that he cared about each student,” she said. “I’m going to miss him.”
Dr. Ed Hindson, Dean of Liberty’s Institute of Biblical Studies, also spoke at the TRBC service. He said in the course of his remarks that Falwell was “a man who loved God with all his heart and loved people with all his heart.”
Hindson alluded to a tragic incident for the Liberty University family earlier in the year, when a drunk driver struck Hindson’s son-in-law Andy Barrick and his wife and two children in October.
In ministering to the family’s needs at the hospital, Falwell seemed to have an uncanny sense of God’s sovereign hand.
“He said, ‘This will be all right. God is in control. He knows what He’s doing,’” Hindson recalled.
Hindson also provided a brief lighthearted moment when he spoke of Falwell’s probable doings in Heaven.
“I’m sure he’s already trying to get it better organized,” Hindson said, eliciting a moment of laughter from the audience.
Overall, though, Hindson called upon the audience to remember Falwell’s desire to not be satisfied with the accomplishments of the past but to instead keep moving forward to greater and greater things.
“Jerry Falwell, in my opinion, was the true epitome of human greatness,” Hindson said. “He was a trophy of the grace of God.”
The funeral for Falwell will be held in the TRBC sanctuary on Tuesday, May 22, at 1 p.m. Also on Tuesday will be a special service in Williams Stadium celebrating Falwell’s life.