A. Pierre Guillermin, Founding President of Liberty University, Dies at 82

Pierre Guillermin
News & Advance file photo

Armand Pierre Guillermin, Liberty University’s founding president and a driving force behind the school’s early growth, died early Tuesday morning at his home in Lynchburg. He was 82.

Family members said the cause of death is believed to be congestive heart failure, a disease that long plagued the academic. He was laid to rest Saturday after services at Rivermont Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

For more than a quarter century, Guillermin helped lead Liberty from its humble start as a small Baptist college into a major academic institution boasting 13,000 students and a campus of 66 buildings by his retirement.

He struck up what would become a close relationship with the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. in the mid-1960s as the Hill City pastor dreamed of building private Christian schools to rival the best institutions in the nation.

By the time the two met, Guillermin was serving as president of Southern Methodist College in Orangeburg, South Carolina. At 29 years old, he was recognized as the youngest college president in the nation and was a popular speaker at churches and colleges, where he advocated for the importance of providing an education rooted in Christian teaching.

It was during a trip to a Lynchburg church in 1966 where Falwell Sr. first heard Guillermin speak and began to see him as a potential partner in his drive to construct new schools. He soon asked Guillermin to join the effort as an administrator.

“We discussed the need to develop a Christian education system under the auspices of a local church — like Thomas Road Baptist Church — which would encompass an academy, a college, and eventually, a university,” Guillermin told the Liberty Journal in 2012.

Plans for Lynchburg Christian Academy, now known as Liberty Christian Academy, were announced by Falwell the same year of Guillermin’s visit, according to an article from The Daily Advance.

It took convincing, but by the spring of 1967 Guillermin agreed to head the academy. It began classes that fall with 102 students and in 1971, with just four full-time faculty members, Lynchburg Baptist College opened its doors to 154 students.

Five years later, with Guillermin leading the college as president and Falwell serving as chancellor, enrollment had increased to nearly 1,600.

Almost from the outset, Guillermin, who held undergraduate and graduate degrees from Bob Jones University and a doctorate from Nova Southeastern University, had visions of building the small Bible college into a major university.

“One day Liberty Baptist College will be a Christian University training thousands of students from all walks of life and from all corners of the world for Christian service,” he wrote in an April 20, 1976, edition of his weekly campus newsletter. “One day this many faceted Christian center of education will be multiplied many times over as resident campuses are developed throughout America and many foreign countries.”

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SOURCE: The News & Advance, Richard Chumney