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Liberty News

Liberty professor a mainstay at Commencement for four decades

May 20, 2016 : Liberty University News Service

Dr. Harold Willmington leads a prayer of dedication at Liberty University's 43rd Commencement Ceremony.
Dr. Harold Willmington leads a prayer of dedication at Liberty University's 43rd Commencement Ceremony.

In 1974, when Liberty University held its first Commencement, Dr. Harold Willmington was present, just as he was at this year’s 43rd Commencement Ceremony. And for every Commencement in between — save one — Willmington has been there as Liberty celebrated its graduating class. Last year Willmington missed his only Liberty Commencement to-date due to a severe foot condition that rendered him unable to walk.

“During my 44 years here, I have witnessed many interesting Commencement and Baccalaureate services,” Willmington said, demonstrating a sharp memory as he noted some highlights. “The first was in 1974 when just a few dozen graduated. Then, in 1990, (sitting U.S. President) George H. W. Bush was the speaker. In 1997, Billy Graham spoke in the driving rain. One of my favorite addresses was given by Dr. James Dobson who spoke on the theme, ‘Time Will Trash Your Trophies.’”

Dr. Harold Willmington with Liberty University Founder Dr. Jerry Falwell and President Emeritus A. Pierre Guillermin at Liberty University's first Commencement.
(From left) Dr. Harold Willmington with Liberty University Founder Dr. Jerry Falwell and President Emeritus A. Pierre Guillermin at Liberty University's first Commencement on May 22, 1974.

While he has spent more than half of his life serving Liberty University, Willmington has worn a number of hats, including pastor, teacher, dean, and author of 20 books. His book, “Willmington’s Guide to the Bible,” with more than 350,000 copies distributed, has been in print for more than 30 years and has been used by hundreds of thousands of people from every walk of life.

He was invited by Liberty co-founder Dr. Elmer Towns to start Liberty Bible Institute as a campus program in 1972. In 1976, Liberty founder Dr. Jerry Falwell asked him to start the home correspondence course, Liberty Home Bible Institute, which became the world’s largest correspondence diploma Bible program.

Willmington has been married to his wife, Sue, for over 50 years. Sue Willmington began building a deaf ministry at Liberty University, Liberty Christian Academy, and the Bible Institute in 1973. She also interpreted for Dr. Falwell’s television program, “The Old Time Gospel Hour.” (Read more about Sue Willmington.) Harold and Sue Willmington have three grandchildren from their son Matt and his wife, Chris. Of these seven members of the Willmington family, six are currently working full-time with Liberty or a related ministry, and Willmington’s youngest granddaughter, Abigail, recently completed her first year at Liberty.

Harold Willmington on May, 14, 2016.
Dr. Harold Willmington looks out the window of Liberty University's Football Operations Center, overlooking Williams Stadium, as he prepares for Liberty's 43rd Commencement.

Willmington is Liberty’s longest serving faculty member, a streak he plans to continue as he teaches classes this fall.

“I have often been asked the secret of my 44 years here,” he said. “I think it goes back to some advice that Gospel singer Doug Oldham gave me while I was trying to determine God’s will for me to come here. He said, ‘Well, I hope you come, Harold, but don’t come unless you know who you are and why you are coming.’ Honestly I thought this was weird advice, but I soon found out it was anything but weird.  During the early 1970s, this ministry was growing so fast that the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. There were financial problems, space problems, turf wars, etc.  This would prove to be a brief time of frustration for all involved. It was then that I realized the wisdom of Doug’s advice.

“Who are you, I would ask. ‘Well, I am a sinner saved by grace.’ Why have you come? ‘I have come to help Dr. Jerry Falwell carry out the second part of the Great Commission.’ I said, ‘You do the reaching, and I will attempt to help you with the teaching.’

“If God allows, I plan to spend the last few years of my life here in this wonderful place until I am called home.”

Photos from Liberty University's first Commencement on May 22, 1974.
Above: Dr. Harold Willmington (second from left) and Liberty University Founder Dr. Jerry Falwell hand out diplomas at Liberty's first Commencement on May 22, 1974. Below: Liberty University holds its first Commencement Ceremony on May 22, 1974 inside the old Thomas Road Baptist Church sanctuary.

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