Former Sen. Bill Armstrong dies

Obituary | Colorado Christian University president praised for conservative legacy
by J.C. Derrick
Posted 7/06/16, 06:35 pm

Colorado Christian University president and former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong died Tuesday after a battle with cancer. He was 79.

Peers and colleagues lauded Armstrong as a man of conviction and integrity who helped launch the conservative movement during his six decades of public service and civic engagement.

“He understood that faith, family, and freedom were the foundation for a strong and thriving society,” said Jeffrey Hunt, director of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University (CCU). “Bill Armstrong will take his rightful place in history along with William Wilberforce, Patrick Henry, Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, Chuck Colson, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”

Armstrong is survived by his wife Ellen, two adult children, eight grandchildren, and four granddaughters-in-law.

Armstrong served two years (1963–64) in the Colorado House of Representatives and seven years (1965–72) in the Colorado Senate, eventually becoming the youngest Senate majority leader in state history.

He then served three terms in the U.S. House (1973–79) and two terms in the U.S. Senate (1979-91) representing Colorado, carving a reputation as one of Washington’s most committed fiscal conservatives. He worked closely with former President Ronald Reagan and for six years chaired the Senate Policy Committee—a panel that helps shape the party agenda.

“He was always well-prepared and effective for the challenges we faced,” Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Kan., told me. “Serving with Sen. Bill Armstrong in the House and the Senate was an honor and pleasure.”

Former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M, said he always admired Armstrong’s “intellectual prowess and his honesty and integrity.”

Armstrong’s evangelical faith was an integral part of his life, a fact Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said was evident during his time in the U.S. Senate.

At the end of his farewell floor speech, Armstrong pulled out a worn, leather-bound Bible: “The very last words which I would like to say to my colleagues are these, from the very last verse of the last book of the Holy Scriptures: ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.’”

After retiring from public service and business, Armstrong in 2006 became the CCU president, a position he held until his death. In February he announced plans to retire, but he continued to make some university decisions even as his health declined.

“The last 10 years have been an unforgettable experience for Ellen and me,” Armstrong said, referring to his wife of almost 54 years. “It is the most significant, energizing, and rewarding work I have ever undertaken.”

Unprecedented growth marked Armstrong’s tenure as CCU president, which saw enrollment swell to more than 6,000. In 2009, CCCU launched the Centennial Institute, a Christian think tank designed to influence public policy, with Armstrong serving as chairman. The institute’s flagship event, the Western Conservative Summit, has swiftly become a leading political gathering in the region, attracting top names such as presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. 

“I view [Armstrong] as the father of the modern-day conservative movement in the state of Colorado,” former U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said during a 10-minute tribute video played last week at the 2016 Western Conservative Summit. 

Armstrong also became a respected voice in the wider Christian higher education community. Shirley Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, called Armstrong a “giant in the halls of public service” who acted as a friend and adviser from the time she assumed her role in 2014.

Under Armstrong, CCU was among the first schools to challenge the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate.

David Dockery, president of Trinity International University, said he learned from Armstrong’s “convictional voice in the public square” over the last decade: “His exemplary leadership provided a model for many of the rest of us as we have attempted to navigate through the many and multi-layered challenges facing Christian higher education during the 21st century.”

J.C. Derrick

J.C. is WORLD’s deputy chief content officer and WORLD Radio’s managing editor based in Dallas. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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