Jess Moody, a Baptist preacher who came to West Palm Beach with the late Rev. Billy Graham and went on to become the founding president of Palm Beach Atlantic University, died on Friday. He was 93.
His death was .
Moody became pastor of what was then First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach and is now Family Church Downtown in 1961.
He also had a dream: to create a Christian college in the area, and asked his congregation to pray for “Project X,” the university said in a statement.
In 1968, the first students began their studies at Palm Beach Atlantic. Moody was its first president.
He and his late wife, Doris, crafted the school’s “workship” program, which requires all full-time undergraduates to volunteer at nonprofit organizations, schools or churches.
“We give thanks for a giant of a Christian crusader, a Bible preacher, a visionary dreamer and our founding president,” William M. B. Fleming Jr., the current Palm Beach Atlantic president, said in a statement. “His sweet love and unlimited devotion to young people is legendary.”
Fleming called Moody “a servant for all seasons and all mankind.” In 1997, the as “a large-framed Southern Baptist preacher with visions as big as his native Texas” and called him “jocular and garrulous.”
In 1976, he left Florida to become pastor of First Baptist Church in Van Nuys, Calif., the university said.
The Los Angeles Times said the independent congregation had some 10,000 members.
When Moody aligned his new congregation with the Southern Baptists after considerable resistance, many members left the church. In 1986, he met more opposition when he proposed relocating the congregation to the "Promised Land" in the northwest Valley to keep that area "from Satan‘s grip.”
He attracted a number of entertainment figures to his church and performed the wedding of actors and Loni Anderson. Their marriage ended in divorce; Reynolds died in September in Jupiter.
The Los Angeles Times profile described him as an ardent Republican and theological conservative.
Moody was the author of seven books, including “God, If You Have a Plan for My Life, Where Were You Last Thursday?” and “Club Sandwich Goes Great with Chicken Soup.”
Moody was a native of Texas. He graduated from and the The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and received his doctor of divinity degree from Campbellsville College in Kentucky.
He worked in the San Fernando Valley in California for 19 years.
In 1995, he returned to Texas and became an adjunct professor of religion at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. He taught six years there and two years at Dallas Baptist University. Moody was living in West Palm Beach at the time of his death.
Funeral arrangements are pending. The university said the family has requested that memorial gifts be made to the .
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