Off to meet the chancellor of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell, Jr. From our July-August issue.
Here I am riding through the lovely Virginia countryside in the back seat with my trusty driver, Bob Noah, at the wheel. You have to go out a long way actually before you get to the open spaces, but that’s progress, I guess. What were once verdant farms and trees are now hideous residential developments. For some reason, money, I am sure, builders now build homes that are quite tall but very narrow. I guess that’s to give the illusion of spaciousness. Specious spaciousness, as one might say. I don’t care for them, but then, tastes vary.
We stopped somewhere about 60 miles south of D.C. at a Super Target. Wow, what an immense store. Very clean and neat. Lots of friendly people. Just to my untrained eye, it did not seem as if the prices were a super steal. Frankly though, it was a pleasure just to be in such a clean store. It was almost like a museum of cleanliness. Plus it was very well lit. I love Wal- Mart but they could learn from this Super Target. How much trouble would it be to keep the Super Wal- Marts as shiny as this store? I am not an expert in retailing, so maybe I am missing something. Maybe Wal-Mart would not seem like a bargain if it were not a little untidy. Plus, no store has more helpful people than Wal-Mart. Not even Super Target, which has pleasant, friendly people indeed.
Anyway, back into the car and down southwest toward Lynchburg, Virginia, where I am giving the commencement speech at Liberty University. We passed through Charlottesville, home of Mister Jefferson’s University, and ran into colossal traffic. Then ever southwestward, until we passed the adorable town of Lovingston, Virginia.
There was a sign pointing out the “Historic District,” so we went over to the courthouse for Nel son County. It was a lovely old building, like a Holly wood set of a courthouse, only better. I kept thinking if I looked hard enough I would see Gregory Peck arguing for the life of a wrongly accused black man. But, no, it was empty in that courthouse. What would it be like to be a lawyer in Lovingston, Virginia? Actually, it sounds good to me. Near the courthouse, there was a statue of a Confederate soldier, that was, oddly, looking north. In my idiocy, I thought they always looked south. Maybe they always look north. There was a sign about a terrible hurricane, Camille, that caused immense loss of life and property damage in Lovingston. Many beautiful azaleas grew near the Confederate soldier statue.
As we looked for more historical mementos, we came upon a little knot of young girls, including one with neon pink hair. I went over and talked to them and to their boyfriends or brothers or whoever they were, sitting in a car and a truck. The girls were adorable. They said there wasn’t much to do there except hang out at the local coffee house. I took their pictures and then we went on our way. I sure hope they find something interesting to do.
We got to Lynchburg around nightfall. Wow. It is a confusing place. Very hilly, like Knoxville, Ten nessee, and many confusing intersections and interchanges. We found our hotel, a huge structure on the side of a mountain, and then went off to meet the chancellor of the university, Jerry Falwell, Jr., his wife, and their small party.
We met them at an aptly named restaurant called “Ham’s.” Everyone was super cheerful and friendly. Jerry is a handsome devil, movie-star quality, and his wife, Becki, is simply beautiful. Their son Trey, a college student, is also handsome, helpful, and amazingly strong. I had to ask him to ratchet his handshake down a bit lest he kill me.
Jerry and Becki have been together since they were teenagers. You can see how much in love they still are and it’s touching. Everyone was super pleasant and had a lot to say.
I contrast this with a faculty dinner or two I have had at colleges and universities in New England, where I felt as if I were caught in a spiderweb of suspicion and entrapment. These were really, really, open, friendly people. The owner of Ham’s came over and visited with us. He was super friendly, too. This is friendly countryside.
Liberty, it turns out, is the largest Evangelical Baptist university on earth. It was founded, of course, by Jerry Falwell. He was from Lynchburg, where his family had long owned a large dairy operation. The kids come from all over the nation and the world to study and learn to follow Christ.
They make no bones about it. This is a school for believers.
As far as I can tell, it’s working great. Jerry, Jr., took over after his father’s totally unexpected death recently. He had been a quiet fellow but learned to go on stage occasionally and now he’s a pro.
I also met Jerry’s brother, pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, a huge enterprise of worship right next to the school. He is also handsome and friendly.
It all seems extremely cozy and I like it.
After dinner, Trey led Bob Noah and me to the nearby supermarket to buy some midnight snacks. He is a very friendly, capable young fellow. There is a lot to like about this school. I felt warm and cozy just being there.
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