In the early 1980s, Guy Penrod and Lynda Tait Randle were a couple of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s kids. Now, they are stars with the Gaither Homecoming Concert Series, the most recognized traveling show in gospel music.
Both Penrod, a member of the Gaither Vocal Band, and Randle, a solo performer on the Gaither tour, honed their singing skills while attending Liberty Baptist College, the forerunner of Liberty University.
“Talent comes from a lot of sources,” said Bill Gaither, the architect of the Homecoming series along with his wife, Gloria. “The talent that we’ve gotten from Jerry’s school has been just wonderful.”
For many years, Penrod and Randle were joined on the stage by comedian and singer Mark Lowry, former Liberty student. Barry Jennings, Gaither’s son-in-law and chief executive officer of the entire Gaither operation, also has Liberty ties. “I called Jerry last spring, a couple of months before he passed away, just to chat and say, ‘I just want to thank you for the gifts you have given to us in the form of talented kids,’” Gaither said.
“They are delightful kids who have their feet down spiritually. They understand the need for a strong commitment to Christ.”
Penrod and Randle were together again on Sept. 15 as they performed at a concert at Lynchburg’s Thomas Road Baptist Church, which was founded by Falwell 51 years ago.
Falwell’s son, Jonathan, now serves as the church’s senior pastor.
Falwell Sr. was always there to encourage Penrod and Randle.
“We did so much with Dr. Falwell,” Penrod said. “In the early 1980s, he was running around the country doing so many engagements in political circles. We would go as [the Men of Liberty quartet] and sing before he’d get up to speak. I loved that about him. He wanted us to be with him to change the mood of the crowd.”
When alone with the guys of the Liberty quartet, Falwell was as much a prankster as he was a father figure.
One stay at a Washington, D.C., hotel particularly sticks out in Penrod’s mind.
“We’d always stay on the side of the hall where Doc would have an adjoining room,” Penrod remembered. “Our first order of business was to unlock the door joining the rooms and prop them open so we could run back and forth between the rooms. It was a fancy hotel. Everyone was trying to be all proper.”
“Doc said, ‘Alright boys, open the door!’” Penrod recalled.
A short time later, Falwell came barreling through the door in his T-shirt and boxer shorts, slinging pillows at the quartet members as he belly laughed. “Stir it up, boys.
Stir it up,” Falwell yelled as he ran past.
“It was typical of him,” Penrod said. “He always had a fun side. As kids, we didn’t see him as stodgy.”
Falwell himself was the target of practical jokes, like the time Robbie Hiner filled Falwell’s suit jacket pocket with shaving cream. Falwell got up and shoved his hand into the pockets and the shaving cream before turning slightly to confront Hiner.
“Robbie Hiner, I’m going to kill you,” Falwell quietly joked before turning back towards the crowd and continuing to speak.
It was at Liberty that Penrod met the love of his life and the mother of his eight children (seven boys and girl). Angie Penrod, who has fond memories of LU, was a basketball player at the school.
“We’ve got eight kids to put through college. This is such a great place. Look where it’s come,” she said. “Our kids are saying, ‘This is where I’ll come to school.’ It’s kind of neat to think that some of our kids might be able to enjoy Liberty like we did.”
More than 20 years ago, Falwell officiated the Penrods’ wedding ceremony, which happened on the evening of graduation. Guy and Angie’s fathers (both pastors) helped Falwell conduct the wedding.
Penrod said he’s had the good fortune of knowing both Falwell and Gaither, both icons of the American Christian movement.
“I love Bill like I did Dr. Falwell, with all due respect,” Penrod said. “They are men cut out of a different mold. Theirs was a generation that really knows how to work. There was no room for being lazy. I highly regard that. I hope that there are some of us that can learn from them.”
Both men have lived transparent lives.
“Dr. Falwell was the same in public as he was in private, as is Bill,” Penrod said.
Randle, a pastor’s daughter, remembered Falwell always asking her to sing, particularly on his Old Time Gospel Hour television show.
“I sang all the time,” Randle recalled. “My widespread ministry got its start right here at LU.”
She first learned that she’d been accepted by Liberty while working in a beauty parlor near her Washington, D.C., home.
“My mom called and said, ‘I got a call from Liberty Baptist College and they want you to come down in two days.’” Randle said.
Through tears, Randle packed her bags for Lynchburg.
“My parents borrowed the money and a car to bring me down,” she said. “That’s pretty much how I got here.”
Falwell left a lasting impression on Randle, who grew up as part of a storefront church pastored by her father.
“Dr. Falwell was so personable,” she said. “He would just shake hands and remember names. He had a fabulous memory. He was just so down to earth. He was just Dr. Jerry.”
Randle said Falwell didn’t seem to treat her differently from other people just because she could sing.
“He was like he was with everybody,” she said. “He wasn’t conservative in his worship. He was an all-around great family man and a man of God. He taught us that a man’s character is not measured by all their successes, but by what it takes to get them discouraged. Because of Dr. Falwell, those things are forever embedded in my spirit.”
Randle, whose brother Michael Tait helped form the contemporary Christian musical group DC Talk, said her return to Lynchburg was bittersweet because of Falwell’s passing.
“It’s so difficult being here. I haven’t sat down because I’m afraid I’d start crying,” she said. “I’m so sad that he’s gone, although I know God has a plan. There is more to Liberty than just Dr. Falwell. But I so much wish he was still here. I could have been a whole other person if I hadn’t been here at Liberty. My life could have taken a whole different turn. I’m just blessed among women.”