Celebrating the Life and Legacy Of Beloved Husband, Father
and Faithful Servant Of God, Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson
In John 2, when Jesus performed his first miracle, Mary told the wedding servants at Cana, “Whatever He says to you, do it” (v. 5, NKJV). That’s good advice for every believer, but for the late Dr. M. G. “Pat” Robertson, Regent University’s founder, chancellor, and CEO, it was a way of life.
This minister of the gospel, religious broadcaster, author, humanitarian, and educator spent 93 years walking with the living God. His death and graduation to heaven on June 8 leaves behind a legacy that is very likely to remain unmatched in our current age.
In the moments after word of Robertson’s passing began to spread, inspiring stories of how he touched so many lives began pouring in from around the world. Social media posts, online articles, and news reports highlighted the impact of a man who lived under the grace and protection of “the powerful hand of a miracle-working God.”
The Early Years
On March 22, 1930, Marion Gordon Robertson was born as the second son of Absalom Willis Robertson and Gladys Churchill Willis in Lexington, Virginia. As a boy, Robertson’s older brother, Willis Robertson, Jr., would tap his baby brother’s cheeks with his hands, saying over and over: “Pat, pat, pat.” The nickname stuck with him for the rest of his life.
Robertson shared the blood of statesmen and saints. His mother was related to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. She also had ancestral ties to the Harrison family, who produced a signer of the Declaration of Independence and two U.S. presidents. His father served 14 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 20 years in the U.S. Senate. In addition to having Baptist and Anglican clergymen as fellow members of his family tree, one ancestor, John Woodson, joined the historic Jamestown Colony in 1619.
Robertson graduated from Washington & Lee University in 1950 and served in the Marine Corps as a second lieutenant during the Korean War. But his relentless obedience to the Lord didn’t begin until after he met the love of his life, Adelia “Dede” Elmer, at Yale University and married her (1954), graduated from Yale Law School (1955), and then started his business career as an executive trainee for W. R. Grace & Company.
A Life Transformed
After quickly becoming dissatisfied with climbing the corporate ladder, dinner with a family friend put Robertson on the path to salvation and lifelong ministry. In his 2020 book, I Have Walked With the Living God, he wrote about that night and how a sudden realization changed him for eternity. During their conversation, Robertson “blurted out” for the first time in his life that he truly believed God’s only begotten Son died for the sins of the world and for his sins, too.
“In a fancy hotel dining room in Philadelphia, I knew in my heart that Jesus Christ was my Savior,” Robertson remembered. “That simple confession in early April 1956 transformed my life. Jesus came into my heart, and I became a new man.”
“ …I knew in my heart that Jesus Christ was my Savior,” Robertson remembered. “That simple confession in early April 1956 transformed my life. Jesus came into my heart, and I became a new man.”
Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson
It wasn’t long before he began attending Biblical Seminary in Manhattan and would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit—in his living room. It happened while praying with Dede for God to miraculously heal their son Tim, as the toddler convulsed from a high fever.
“I had now walked into the Book of Acts and was no longer a spectator, but an active participant in the works of a miracle-making God,” Robertson wrote. “This opened a whole new chapter for me of seeking God‘s guidance. … I was being led by the Holy Spirit, and as I prayed, the Holy Spirit would speak to me.”
For a time, the growing family (now with two small children) lived in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, New York. Robertson had heard from the Holy Spirit, who told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor (Luke 12:33). To which Dede replied, “Dear, do whatever the Lord leads you to do.”
A Global Ministry Birthed From Small Beginnings
They ministered to the poor and needy in and around New York City until God gave the family a new mission. Robertson received a prophetic word from a fellow pastor that he would be speaking “to millions of people.” So in November of 1959, with the Lord’s blessing, he packed up his family and headed back home to Virginia, inspired with a new vision and purpose: “Go and tell!”
In 1960, despite having just $70 in his pocket and knowing “absolutely nothing about television broadcasting,” God led Robertson to purchase a small, shuttered UHF station in Portsmouth, Virginia. Through prayer, persistence, hard work, and several small miracles, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) went on the air on Sunday, October 1, 1961. WYAH was the first television station ever licensed to broadcast 50% or more religious programming.
“I didn’t even own a television set, so buying a television station didn’t make any sense,” Robertson wrote. “We had one black- and-white camera. There was no adequate monitor in the studio, and we had to run down to a convenience store a block away to see if we were even on the air.”
A verse that Robertson quoted frequently in conversations about CBN and Regent University was Zechariah 4:10, “Do not despise these small beginnings” (NLT). From what Robertson affectionately described as a “broken-down, old pile of junk” arose a global media ministry that has pointed hundreds of millions around the world to faith in Jesus Christ.
In the nearly 62 years that have followed, CBN has used television, radio, and the Internet to reach billions of people in some 200 countries in more than 100 languages. On October 1, 2021, the 60th anniversary of CBN, Robertson retired from hosting the network’s flagship television program, The 700 Club, at the age of 91.
“I didn’t have the slightest idea of what the Lord had for me,” Robertson admitted in a 2015 article for Regent University’s Christian Leader magazine. “It was only through the unfolding years that I learned of God’s plan for broadcasting, then later for education, and all the other activities I have been involved in.”
Those “other activities” included founding Regent University in 1977, the international relief and development organization Operation Blessing in 1978, and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) in 1990 to protect religious and constitutional freedoms. Robertson unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for President of the United States in 1988 and remained a prominent political and cultural voice for American Christians until his death.
Building a School for God’s Glory
During his more than 45 years of leading Regent, Robertson often shared with new students, returning students, faculty, and staff the story of how the university began taking shape. In 1973, CBN was growing so quickly that, in addition to broadcast facilities and office space in Portsmouth, Virginia, their printing and mailing operations expanded to Chesapeake, and the network’s executive team was located in Virginia Beach. Robertson decided it was time to move everything to a central location.
“I began to look for a home—a place where we could build a building that would house all these different operations. I looked and looked and looked and looked,” Robertson remembered during a Regent “Founder’s Chapel” that kicked off the Fall semester. “Finally, the Department of Economic Development of the City of Virginia Beach said, ‘Listen, there’s a piece of land at the juncture of the interstate. … The people who own it might be willing to let you buy six acres to build your headquarters.’”
The location was perfect for the growing cable network—close to the borders of Chesapeake and Norfolk, Virginia; only 10 miles from CBN’s current location in Portsmouth; and just a 10-minute drive to the region’s largest airport. But the landowners said, “No way.” They wanted to sell all 142 acres, not just six.
Shortly after that rejection, Robertson traveled to California for a meeting at a school of theology, where he served on the board of directors. In his words, he arrived “famished,” as well as late. So, he decided to stop for lunch at a coffee shop inside the Grand Hotel across from Disneyland.
“I ordered half a cantaloupe and cottage cheese,” he recalled. “I bowed my head, and God began to speak to me. … I didn’t make a move to eat it, I just kept praying. God said, ‘I want you to buy all of the land on that piece of property, and I want you to build your headquarters, and I want you to build a school for My glory.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And then I ate.”
Other than loaves and fish, perhaps no meal has influenced as many lives for the kingdom as cantaloupe and cottage cheese. When Robertson returned to Virginia, he met with a local banker to negotiate terms for the sale.
“I didn’t have any money,” he explained. “So, I said, ‘Nothing down…I’ll pay interest only for two years, and I’ll pay the balance over the next 23 years at simple interest of eight percent.’”
Less than four years later, Robertson officially founded CBN University, which became Regent University in 1990. In 1978, the School of Communication & the Arts welcomed its first class of 77 graduate students instructed by seven faculty members. These Regent “pioneers” met in rented classrooms in Chesapeake, Virginia, until on-campus structures were built in the years that followed.
Today, Regent University sits on 70 acres adjacent to the CBN campus in Virginia Beach. Its more than 13,000 current students represent all 50 states and 59 countries. They’re seeking associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from among the university’s more than 150 academic disciplines. Regent’s 35,000-plus alumni from its nine schools of study are making an impact on countless lives around the world through media, education, business, ministry, government, law, medicine, technology, and more.
“ …God said, ‘I want you to buy all of the land in that piece of property, and I want you to build your headquarters, and I want you to build a school for My glory.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And then I ate.”
Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson
As a global center for Christian thought and action, Regent University remains a premier institution of higher learning dedicated to combining quality education with biblical teaching. “God wanted this school,” Robertson insisted. “We have evidence of how, time and time again, God breathed on this institution and blessed it from the start.”
“Regent University is going to do what we initially set out to do,” he said in 2017. “It has been called to be a tower of intellectual excellence in the middle of the world we live in and an influence throughout the world. And I believe that’s coming to pass, and I am thrilled to see it.”
Celebrating a Life and Legacy
During his 68-year marriage to Dede, who passed on April 19, 2022, the Lord blessed the couple with four children, 14 grandchildren, and 24 great-grandchildren. The love of family will be Robertson’s true legacy. That fact was fully evident during his memorial service at Regent University’s Shaw Chapel on June 19, 2023. Via live-stream video, the world was invited to “celebrate the remarkable life and legacy of Pat Robertson, beloved husband, father, follower of Jesus, and friend to all.”
In heartfelt messages, each of his and Dede’s children spoke about who their father was, what he meant to them, and what he did to grow God’s kingdom. Tim Robertson revealed that his father hosted more than 10,000 episodes of The 700 Club, leading millions to make decisions “to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”
Elizabeth Robinson shared a memory “indelibly etched” in her mind: “My father rising before anyone else in the home and sitting in his wingback chair, with his Bible on his lap, seeking God’s direction, counsel, and wisdom for the day ahead. Most importantly, he was listening for God’s voice, speaking to him through the pages of Scripture.”
On what Ann LeBlanc called “an amazing day … celebrating an amazing life,” she quoted one of her father’s favorite Bible passages, Psalm 63:1-8. “Right up until the very end, Dad was always believing in miracles,” she insisted. “Dad clung to the Lord all the way to the end.”
Other moving tributes followed from Chris Mitchell Sr., Chief of Police for CBN/Regent University Campus Police, who also provided personal security for Robertson; Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice and a member of Regent’s Board of Trustees; and Bible teacher and religious broadcaster Kenneth Copeland.
Gordon Robertson, CEO of CBN and Operation Blessing, closed the service with a personal memory from his father’s final days. “During one of those times of prayer, God placed it on my heart to read to him Isaiah 59:21,” Robertson recalled.
“‘As for Me,’ says the LORD, ‘this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,’ says the LORD, ‘from this time and forevermore.’”
Before ending the memorial service in exactly the way his father requested—with a Dixieland band playing “When the Saints Go Marching In”—Gordon Robertson delivered an invocation that included these powerful words of prayer:
“Lord God, I commit the body of my father to the ground knowing that his soul and his spirit are with You. … I ask that everyone here would take up Your Spirit and Your Word, [ that ] we would all be inspired by the life of my Father, that his memory would be a blessing to us, and that it would be an inspiration to us. And we would say, ‘Pat Robertson believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’”
Regent University’s late founder, chancellor, and CEO fully understood that a man’s days are “determined” by the Lord (Job 14:5). In a 2015 interview, he pointed to Moses as an example of the fruit that bears through patience and obedience to Him: “God took him to the desert for 40 years before he could lead his people in signs and wonders.”
Moses didn’t live long enough to see the Jewish people’s “Promised Land.” But Robertson was constantly building, sowing, and reaping on the 142 acres of land God promised and provided for CBN and Regent on New Year’s Eve in 1973.
Looking at his long list of personal and professional accomplishments, you can clearly see a lifetime of impact for God’s glory. Through Robertson’s life of relentless obedience to the Lord, generations of Christian leaders will emerge from Regent University fully prepared for lives of significant purpose and service to our world.
During the June 19 memorial service, Jay Sekulow spoke about the “inter-generational legacies” that took shape because Robertson “was obedient to the Word and to his King.” He said:
“Pat saw a need in the world of academics because he himself experienced academics at the highest level and wanted to create a university. He felt the Lord had put it on his heart to create a university for His glory, for God’s glory, to rival, as he would often say, the Sorbonne and Oxford. He heard that call, and Pat Robertson said, ‘Here am I, Lord. Send me.’ And we have Regent University.”
In what would be his final charge to Regent graduates on May 6, Robertson assured the Class of 2023 that their Commencement verse, Romans 8:37, was true: “I want to leave these words with you: ‘We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.’”
Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson certainly was.