Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Jerry Falwell Story: Mistaken For An Assassin

I didn't plan to write about the Rev. Jerry Falwell's passing until I received an e-mail from an old friend sharing his memorable encounter with Falwell while he was a student at Southern Illinois University back in the early 1980s. I've known Gordon Wayman since I was in high school when I was active in the Teen-Age Republicans. By way of introduction, Gordon is one of the few people I met growing up who was more of a political junkie than I was. He was a huge Richard Nixon fan post-Watergate, which made him a bit of a rarity in those days. Nixon was so impressed by Gordon's loyalty he invited him to visit him at his home in San Clemente at a time when he had remained in seclusion from the rest of the outside world after resigning the presidency. Gordon's visit with Nixon made headlines across the country at the time.

Back to Gordon's Falwell story, it is absolutely hilarious as it involves Gordon being mistaken for an assassin. Gordon is a very non-threatening, slightly-built person, which makes the story all the more funny. The following is an excerpt from Gordon's book, "While You Do Your Business: A Bathroom Reader That Makes You Laugh In All The Right Places," which you can purchase on, relating Gordon's unforgettable encounter with Falwell.

Well, do I seem like the kind of person who would be mistaken for an assassin? When I was in college, I almost got killed in the “line of fire.”

It all started at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois. I was active in politics. I was even the president of the SIU College Republicans. Jerry Falwell, the TV minister from the Old Time Gospel Hour, was at that time president of a political organization called, “The Moral Majority.” He was very well known and very controversial. He was scheduled to be on campus and speak at a dinner. A local business group sponsored the event.

One of the sponsors was a friend of mine and gave me a ticket. I had plans to attend the 7 p.m. event. However, that afternoon I was in the student center study lounge on the second floor reading. Jerry Falwell had arrived on campus early and was on the same floor doing various interviews with the press. Outside the student center were hundreds of liberal, left wing groups demonstrating against Falwell and his organization. In fact, I learned later that there were even threats against his life.

Around 5 p.m. I left the study lounge to go to my apartment to change clothes for the event that evening. While I was leaving, I walked down the hall, and to my surprise, Jerry Falwell was coming right at me. He was surrounded by a group of bodyguards followed by several others. I thought that this was my opportunity to promote our SIU College Republican Club. We had these buttons, like the old time political campaign buttons, that said “SIU College Republicans.”

So, as Mr. Falwell was approaching, I reached into my jacket pocket to pull out a button to give him. Yes, you guessed it. His bodyguard thought that I was pulling out a gun from my pocket. One of the guards, about 6 feet tall and over 200 pounds, knocked me down, pulled out his gun, and Jerry Falwell was rushed to the next room. I was pushed and I slid on the floor a good six feet. A gun was in my face. My face turned three shades of red. I said, “All I wanted to do was give him this button!”

Well, the story isn’t over yet. That evening shortly after I arrived to the dinner, I heard my name over the speaker system. “Would Gordon Wayman please report to the information desk in the lobby?” I thought, “What in God’s name have I done now. It was only a button!” Apparently, the friend that gave me the ticket to the dinner was one of the people walking behind Jerry when the incident in the student center had occurred. He had told Jerry who I was. I was brought back stage. Mr. Falwell wanted to meet me and apologize for the actions of his security guards.

Mr. Falwell was real nice about the whole thing. He even gave me a nice gift, a “Jesus First” gold lapel pen, which I have to this day. We chatted for a couple of minutes, and I gave him my SIU College Republican button, which I am sure he does not have to this day.

After the dinner and speech, Mr. Falwell worked the crowd and shook hands with people by table. I was sitting with a group of friends, however, I had not had time to tell them about the incident. When Falwell came to our table, he patted me on the back and said, “Gordon, my Republican friend!” My friends looked at me with big eyes and said, “Do you know Jerry Falwell?” I said, “Oh, we go way back!”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this!

Mr. Waymen exagerates the protests of the wrong Rev. Jerry Falwell in Carbondale c.1981. The University carefully prevented "hundreds of liberal, left wing groups (from) demonstrating against Falwell..." There was NO protest outside the Student Center, it was strictly prohibited. Those of us opposed to the Moral Majoritan were restricted to having about 20 people stand along each side of the wide Center entrance hallway. As I recall, they kicked us out for our 8 1/2" x 11" signs displaying stuff like "The Moral Majority is Neither."
The "business group" sponsoring the event was the SIU Foundation, an organization I have never forgiven.