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Sen. Jesse Helms, friend of Liberty University, dies at 86

July 7, 2008 : Teresa Dunham


Photo by Les Schofer

Liberty University is mourning the Friday death of former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms at age 86.

A North Carolina Republican and conservative powerhouse who served five terms before his 2003 retirement, he was a staunch ally and friend of the late Dr. Jerry Falwell throughout the Moral Majority years.

In 2004, LU separated its schools of business and government and decided to name the latter the Helms School of Government in honor of the right-wing champion.

“He was a gracious southern gentleman,” said LU Executive Vice President-Chief Operating Officer Ronald Godwin. “This was in marked contrast with the fact that he was known in Washington as ‘Senator No’ because he just resolutely stood for what he believed. Whatever he had a conviction about ... it was not negotiable.”

Helms first gained Falwell’s attention and admiration by supporting Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan in 1976. Though Reagan lost the nomination that year, conservatives like Falwell and Helms united once again for a Republican victory in the following presidential cycle.

“The friendship of Dr. Falwell and Jesse Helms and his entire family became a very publicly known fact,” said Godwin, who was the founding dean of the Helms School of Government.

When the Moral Majority first came into the public spotlight, Godwin said, it was viewed as a mere point of public interest — but as it gained momentum, the media began to paint it as an ominous force.

“The media turned very negative toward the Moral Majority, and Dr. Falwell first began to experience a fire storm of criticism,” Godwin said. “Sen. Helms was very public and vocal in his support for Dr. Falwell and for conservative Christians being allowed to enjoy all the rights of citizenship that everybody else did.”

By the time LU named its school of government after him, Helms was already retired from politics — and some folks criticized Falwell for not naming the school after an up-and-coming politician who could benefit it.

“That’s not how Dr. Falwell thought. He was always loyal and honored those who stood with him through the years,” Godwin said.

And likewise, Helms honored Falwell in his own way. His daughter, Jane Helms Knox, posthumously presented a James W. Nance Medal of Freedom from The Helms Center to Jonathan and Jerry Falwell Jr. as a tribute to Dr. Falwell during May commencement. The medal, honoring those who exemplify the highest devotion to public service and protection of our nation’s foundational values, has been awarded to several noteworthy recipients including Condoleezza Rice.

To this day, Helms is touted as one of the creators of the modern Republican Party.

To see what Dr. Falwell wrote about Helms after the 2004 school dedication, visit http://archive.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2004/10/7/164145.shtml. For more on the Helms School of Government, visit http://www.liberty.edu/academics/helmsschoolofgovernment/.