Dr. Jess C. Moody, founding president of Palm Beach Atlantic University, died Friday, Dec 7, 2018. He was 93.
“As the University celebrates its 50th year, we give thanks for a giant of a Christian crusader, a Bible preacher, a visionary dreamer and our founding president,” said President William M. B. Fleming, Jr. “Dr. Moody’s mark is on every Palm Beach Atlantic graduate and student. His sweet love and unlimited devotion to young people is legendary. Stories will continue to be written and told about Dr. Jess Moody, a servant for all seasons and all mankind.”
Moody came to West Palm Beach in 1961 as a member of an evangelistic team with the Rev. Billy Graham. Members of a local church liked his charismatic style of preaching and called him to become the pastor of First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach (now Family Church Downtown). A few years into that role, he shared his dream to start a Christian college in the Palm Beaches and asked the members of his congregation to pray for “Project X.” Over several years of starts and stops, including raising money and community support, Palm Beach Atlantic welcomed the first students in 1968 with Moody as its first president.
He along with his late wife, Doris, were the architects of the PBA’s award-winning Workship program, which requires all full-time undergraduate students to volunteer at least 45 hours annually at nonprofit agencies, schools or churches. Workship has become synonymous with PBA as university students to date have volunteered more than 3.3 million hours of community service.
Serving in those early years both as a church pastor and college president, Moody presided over Palm Beach Atlantic’s first graduation in 1972, culminating his presidency.
During his 15-year tenure as pastor, the Chapel by the Lake opened in 1963 and the new church sanctuary was completed in 1965.
Some years later in a letter to Moody on the occasion of his 50th anniversary in ministry, Palm Beach Atlantic’s founding board chairman, Dr. Donald E. Warren, wrote “Despite all of these accomplishments for God, I still feel that the largest, most illuminating ‘star in your crown’ will be Palm Beach Atlantic. You and Doris worked extremely hard to not only start it, but to nurse it along and this one accomplishment will affect the world in a dynamic, favorable way until Christ comes again.”
A Texas native, Moody was a graduate of Baylor University and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He received a doctor of divinity degree from Campbellsville College in Kentucky. Moody studied under C.S. Lewis at Oxford University and he was a speaker at the first National Payer Breakfast in 1948 in Washington, D.C. In the 1950s, he was a member of the European evangelistic team that included Billy Graham, and he was one of the founders of Youth for Christ.
Prior to his arrival in West Palm Beach, Moody was pastor of First Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky. Moody also served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Pastor Conference in 1965.
In 1976, he left Florida to become pastor of First Baptist Church in Van Nuys, California, which later moved to nearby Porter Ranch and became Shepherd of the Hills Church. He returned to Texas in 1995 to become an adjunct professor of religion at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He taught six years at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and two years at Dallas Baptist University.
The Moody Chapel at the LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center in Glorieta, New Mexico, is named in honor of Jess and Doris Moody for their service to thousands of visitors over the years. Palm Beach Atlantic University declared April 5, 2011, as Jess Moody Day. A 7-foot-tall statue in his honor created by Pennsylvania-based sculptor Zenos Frudakis was dedicated overlooking the Rinker Green in the heart of the campus. By this time, the Moodys had returned to West Palm Beach and he was an adjunct professor and frequent campus speaker.
Among his other accomplishments, Moody was the author of seven books, including “A Drink at Joel’s Place.” A collection of uplifting, real life stories about famous people including Rose Kennedy and Burt Reynolds, ”Club Sandwich Goes Great with Chicken Soup” was published in 1999.
He preached at the White House, the United States Air Force Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, the American Church in Paris and the Baptist Church in Rome.” Riding the Pulpit,” a biographical film of Moody’s life, was created in 1966.
Moody is the father of two children, Martha and Patrick, a 1976 graduate of Palm Beach Atlantic. Moody also has three grandchildren: Jessica, Chris, a 2007 graduate of Palm Beach Atlantic, and Sean, a 2010 graduate who went on to earn an MBA in 2013 from PBA.
Services were held on Dec. 15 in the sanctuary of Family Church Downtown, 1101 South Flagler Dr., in West Palm Beach. Memorial gifts can be made to The Jess and Doris Moody Endowed Scholarship for Ministry at Palm Beach Atlantic University.