Liberty University has had only two chancellors in its 36-year history. Dr. Jerry Falwell lead the university in a highly public manner, casting a long shadow across Liberty Mountain as he drove with a passion while building the university.
The university’s second chancellor and fourth president, Jerry Falwell Jr., has always been a “behind the scenes” man at Liberty University. He worked as in-house counsel since 1988 and was Vice Chancellor since 2003 until this year, when he was thrust into the spotlight.
Although Falwell Jr. said in the opening convocation of the semester that he had “avoided public speaking like the plague for the last 20 years,” he has since made many public addresses to the Liberty family and has received a positive response.
However, students want to know more about the new chancellor, such as the fact that Falwell Jr. was once a student himself — a mischievous student.
When asked if there was validity to the rumor that he was a prankster while at Liberty, he responded, “We had a good time.”
When encouraged to provide details, Falwell Jr. did not hesitate.
“One year we had a roommate who never showed up, so we gave him all the cleaning chores. He was getting written up every day,” Falwell Jr. said with a laugh. “The Resident Director (Ed Gomes — who is now the LU Football Chaplain) was in on it, so we couldn’t really get in trouble because we told him what we were doing.”
“The poor kid was in so much trouble. He never answered calls to the Dean’s office because he wasn’t there. The RAs were even having prayer meetings for him.”
Falwell Jr. has an endless reserve of similar stories, such as the time he and his friends released chickens into the cafeteria while wearing hooded masks. He also fondly recalled late night trips to Hardee’s to get biscuits.
“I don’t know when we slept,” Falwell Jr. said. “There’s something about when you’re that age you don’t need sleep.”
Falwell Jr. has a quick wit and never misses an opportunity to laugh or pull a prank. However, despite his antics at Liberty, he did take time to study a bit. He did well enough as a Religion major (Bachelor of Arts in Christian Thought) to graduate in 1984 with nearly a 4.0 GPA.
Falwell Jr. was accepted at the Columbia University School of Law, but he chose to attend the University of Virginia School of Law.
The summer before his second year at law school was when he started dating his wife, Becki, although he met her long before that.
“I met Becki when she was 13 and I was 18, so I had to wait until it was legal to date her,” Falwell Jr. said, laughing.
When the two finally started dating, Falwell Jr. remembered taking her on dates to the Waffle House and the restaurant at Howard Johnson’s.
“There weren’t many places here to go on a date,” Falwell Jr. said. “She didn’t seem to mind it, so I figured she was ‘low maintenance.’”
Although Becki acknowledges she is a woman of simple tastes, she also admits the Waffle House eventually lost its charm.
Other dates for Falwell Jr. and Becki included riding jet skis at Camp Hydaway and horseback riding on Liberty Mountain. One winter after a heavy snowstorm, they rode horses from Camp Hydaway all the way down Wards Road to the late Dr. Falwell’s home.
“There weren’t any cars out, so it didn’t matter about traffic,” Falwell Jr. said.
“There was a ton of snow on the ground, and the horses were sliding down the mountain,” Becki recalled. “By the time we got back, my toes were just about frost bitten.”
Falwell Jr. is adamant about developing recreational activities on Liberty Mountain because he and Becki enjoyed the mountain immensely when they were dating.
“I would love to see Liberty students be able to enjoy the mountain the same way we did. That’s what I’m working towards,” Falwell Jr. said.
The two were married in the Prayer Chapel on campus in 1987, after Falwell Jr. graduated from law school. He actually found out that he passed the bar exam after returning from their honeymoon.
For the last 20 years, they have lived on a farm in Bedford County with their children: Trey, who is now a freshman at Liberty, Wesley, 14, and Caroline, 7.
Becki loves their property because she grew up on a farm in North Carolina.
“She’s the one who taught me all about horses and how to operate a tractor, a bulldozer and a backhoe,” Falwell Jr. said.
True to their love of outdoor activities, Falwell Jr. built a lake on the property soon after purchasing the land, so that his family could ride jet skis.
The family has two donkeys and five horses, including Fred, one of the horses Falwell Jr. and Becki rode during their adventure in the snow many years ago.
“I wanted my kids to grow up with horses, four-wheelers and outdoor activities,” Falwell Jr. said. “I just believe that’s a healthy way for kids to grow up.”
After 20 years of marriage, Falwell Jr. and Becki still spend most of their time together, even though he now has more responsibilities at Liberty. Becki regularly attends luncheons and other public engagements with Falwell Jr. since he has become the chancellor.
“I feel like it’s my job to assist and support him as much as possible. I’m very proud to do it, 100 percent,” Becki said.
Falwell Jr. agrees that his wife plays a very active role in his work.
“She gives me a lot of good suggestions and advice, and then I act like it was my idea,” Falwell Jr. said, laughing. “She’s my secret weapon. She’s the best thing I’ve got going for me.”
Although Falwell Jr.’s role at Liberty has changed drastically, his mischievous personality has not. When asked if she still considered her husband a big practical joker, Becki immediately answered, “Yes.”
“He gets me every April Fool’s Day. Every year, I fall for something,” Becki said.
Many years ago Falwell Jr. and Becki visited Natural Bridge with his family and ate dinner at the hotel restaurant’s buffet. Falwell Jr. scooped what he thought was mashed potatoes onto his plate.
“He took a bite of it and found out what it was,” Becki said. “So he took a spoonful of it and said, ‘Becki, try this, you’re gonna love it!’”
Much to her dismay, it was horseradish sauce.
“My eyes started burning and watering, and Jerry’s parents were sitting right across the table, so I just ran to the bathroom and prayed I could throw up. It was the nastiest thing I’ve ever tasted in my life.”
Becki enjoys her husband’s practical jokes, but when asked what she really wanted students to know about Falwell Jr., she answered that he genuinely cares about other people.
“He’s helped out so many people in need, often by doing legal work without charging them any money.”
“He’s got a big heart.”