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Guess who’s coming to lunch?

The phone call was brief:

“I have a special guest to speak to my employees at lunch today. Can you come over and take a photo for the newspaper?

Normally, I would have thought about it. As sole editor, reporter, photographer and compositor, my time was limited and it was deadline that day at 4 pm.

Yet, without a moment’s hesitation:

I’ll be there!

The Valley Forge Sentinel was a tiny weekly publication in King of Prussia, PA, with a news staff of one.

Arthur S. DeMoss

The man who called me was Arthur S. DeMoss, founder of National Liberty Life, Valley Forge, the firm that revolutionized the business by selling its insurance policies by mail. Art Linkletter was to become its spokesman.

At its peak the DeMoss firm had 1.5 million policyholders. Half the profits went to his missionary foundation, and when he died in 1979, he left $200 million to his charity.

In later years the DeMoss foundation distributed free copies of Power for Living, originally commissioned by the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation to celebrate “The Year of the Bible.” TV commercials ran around the world in the late 90s.

Another DeMoss Foundation project was the 1990s ad campaign with the slogan “Life, What A Beautiful Choice,” an effective and tasteful pro-life campaign.

For the editor of a small newspaper, just getting inside the DeMoss building was appealing. How many computer tapes did he use to store those million plus policies? How big was the staff at this $500 million-asset NYSE mail order firm.

All the questions were answered within minutes after arrival and a handshake greeting from DeMoss.

I’m just so happy that you could come, he said.

We went on a tour, and he showed off his mainframe computers before we entered the lunchroom. I looked for the press table, but there was none. I was the lone reporter.

About two dozen employees stood on one side of the room, waiting for the introductions. DeMoss praised his guest with a soft voice.

The Rev. Billy Graham then captured the room for nearly 30 minutes. He was the great orator at a tiny venue, but treated it like the largest arena. I then interviewed him briefly and nervously

Religion historian Grant Wacker wrote at that time in the mid-1960s, Graham had become the “Great Legitimator”:

By then his presence conferred status on presidents, acceptability on wars, shame on racial prejudice, desirability on decency, dishonor on indecency, and prestige on civic events.

The Reverend’s staff estimated that more than 3.2 million people responded to the invitation at Billy Graham Crusades to “accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior.”

After Graham left, DeMoss invited me to a party later that afternoon at his house in Bryn Mawr on the Main Line. His estate encompassed 50 acres.

I declined. I had a deadline and needed to write my front-page scoop.

Categories: Religion

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