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American Family Association founder Don Wildmon dies

American Family Association founder Don Wildmon dies

Don Wildmon, a prominent preacher from north Mississippi and the visionary behind the growth of the American Family Association (AFA) into a nationwide radio and communications network, passed away. Wildmon, who battled Lewy Body Dementia, succumbed to the illness at the age of 85 on Thursday.

Originally hailing from Dumas, Wildmon graduated from Ripley High School in 1956 and Millsaps College in 1960. After serving in the U.S. Army, he was ordained as a United Methodist minister in 1964. His ministerial assignments included churches in Iuka, Mathiston, Southaven, Tupelo, and Cartersville, Georgia.

Motivated by his concern over what he deemed as unscriptural content, particularly profanity and promiscuity on network television, Wildmon urged his Southaven congregation to observe a week-long television blackout. This initiative gained national media attention, catapulting the unassuming small-town minister into the spotlight for grassroots activism.

In 1977, he founded the National Federation for Decency (NFD) and relocated the organization to Tupelo. The same year, Wildmon played a role in establishing Lee Acres United Methodist Church, now known as Cornerstone UMC. NFD, rapidly growing to 1,400 members, initiated its first television advertiser boycott in the spring of 1978. Notably, this action led to Sears withdrawing sponsorship from shows like “Charlie’s Angels” and “Three’s Company.” A subsequent boycott in 1986 compelled the 7-11 convenience store chain to remove adult magazines from its shelves.

Renaming his organization the American Family Association in 1988, Wildmon introduced the American Family Radio network in 1991, expanding to nearly 200 radio stations. After steering the organization for 25 years, he passed the reins of AFA's day-to-day operations to his son, Tim, in 2002. Nevertheless, Wildmon continued to be a guiding voice for the various ministries.

Health challenges, including a mosquito-borne illness in 2009, temporarily curtailed his daily involvement. Hospitalized with St. Louis Encephalitis, Wildmon faced a lengthy cognitive and physical recovery. Consequently, he stepped down from the AFA board of directors in March of the following year.

Despite these challenges, Wildmon's legacy endured, and he returned to a reduced role in June 2010. Throughout his career, he received numerous awards for his longstanding commitment to morality and decency. In 2013, Vision America renamed its premier award for pastors' courage in the public square as the Don Wildmon Award.

An accomplished author with 22 books to his name, including the 1989 autobiography "The Man the Networks Love to Hate," Wildmon's passion for travel led him to guide over 30 tours to the Holy Land and western Europe.

Married to Lynda Bennett Wildmon for 62 years, they shared four children, six grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.


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