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Ed Plowman, journalist

Remembering the pastor, editor, and writer with The Right Stuff

Ed Plowman, journalist

Ed Plowman (Handout)

The news that WORLD senior writer Ed Plowman had died at age 87 on Dec. 19 sent me looking back at 224 emails from him and 267 stories he wrote for WORLD from 1997 through early this year.

My favorite email is from early in 2007, when Ed was only 75. He said he would soon have heart surgery that “requires deflation of and folding aside the right lung, burning and scarring heart wall tissue while avoiding all blood vessels around and in the heart, cutting open the pericardium, and extracting a structure in the heart known as the Left Atrial Appendage, all while the heart is beating.”

Oh, that’s all. But Ed was not writing to gain sympathy. He was apologizing because he would not be able to write a story he had planned to do: “I’m afraid my time for WORLD monitoring and reporting from today on is going to be very squeezed. I hope I can be back at the computer within two weeks or less following surgery, though they told me to expect ‘discomfort’ for eight weeks.”

Discomfort did not keep Ed from a story. He never wanted to stop reporting. I imagined him in 2007 somehow fighting off anesthetic and demanding a laptop so he could draft an article as doctors extracted his left atrial appendage. He never wanted to retire. Several months ago he was still planning to write the obituaries in our Year in Review issue, as he did every year.

And now I have to write his. Ed, born in Pennsylvania in 1931, graduated from Wheaton College and Dallas Theological Seminary. He was the pastor of a Baptist church in San Francisco throughout the 1960s, news editor and then senior editor at Christianity Today throughout the 1970s, and director of communications for overseas ministries with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in the 1980s. He joined WORLD in the 1990s. He and his wife Rose co-published two sons and two daughters.

That brings me to another event in 2007, when Ed was soon back at work after heart surgery—but not at the expense of loving Rose, who suffered from a neurologic disease, PSP, that made every swallow a struggle. Ed sent one vivid email about how she almost choked on a slice of thin pizza at a food court, but a Filipino three tables away rushed over, “clasped his hands around her and gave two strong pulls across her diaphragm. … She was breathing again, thank the Lord.” Turned out the Filipino was a surgeon: “We believe God was looking out for us.” From then on, Ed fed Rose pureed food and liquid: “We thank the Lord for that.”

Rose died later that year, and although we told Ed to take time off, he responded, “I’ll pedal as fast as I can.” I’ll mention two other aspects of his pedaling: First, he was not only a great reporter but a frugal one. At age 77, planning to fly from Virginia to Portland, Ore., for a story, he emailed that Portland was expensive, but “I can stay at a suburban Days Inn there (with wireless access) for $55 per night. If you’re game, I also could go down to San Diego and do a story on [a church]. Car rentals there go for about $13 a day. … And while I’m at it, after Portland, I would stop in San Francisco to work on an investigative project. …  Several families have offered me free lodging. And airfare from San Jose to San Diego is only $49.”

Dallas Theological Seminary

Jean and Ed Plowman (Dallas Theological Seminary)

Second, he was accurate and concise, explaining his 2013 obit for Peter O’Toole this way: “Some sources describe him as an ‘Irish’ actor. The fact is that he did not know where he was born (!), and he had TWO birth certificates—one from a community in Ireland, one from Leeds, England. Because O’Toole lived in England from childhood, I simply referred to him as a ‘British actor’ (to conserve precious space).”

I’ll put some examples of Ed’s work at the end of this story. In his last years Ed remarried, and Jean gave him joy. Readers occasionally wrote in, praising his work, as in this note we published in 2013: “I very much enjoyed the ‘Departures’ compilation by Edward Plowman. God has certainly created some amazing people!”

Ed was one of them. Tom Wolfe’s terrific book, The Right Stuff, became a movie in 1983. Wolfe wrote that the best pilot, Chuck Yeager, never got to be an astronaut because he did not have a college education—but what he had was The Right Stuff. Yeager took on hazardous missions without demanding extra pay or publicity. He didn’t brag. He simply refused to give up.

Ed Plowman had The Right Stuff.

Here are three examples of the way Ed Plowman took readers into stories: 

1999

The signs outside the one-story blue-and-cream building in a dusty shopping strip on South Bridge Street, a couple of blocks off U.S. 40 in the northeastern Maryland town of Elkton, tell the story: “SALE—Retail Store Closing” and “LEASE—Space Available.” Inside the store all that remains of the nearly 30-year-old Great Christian Books (GCB) national mail-order enterprise is a lone worker tending the cash register and an occasional customer browsing through the “30% off discounted price” clearance merchandise.

2002

Carl McIntire kept a schedule and pace that would alarm any cardiologist. In addition to being a broadcaster, publisher, globetrotting conservative activist, and relentless fundraiser, he also was the president and chief recruiter of a seminary and college, and he headed up national and international councils of churches. He had his hands in missionary and relief work around the world.

2005

In the new consensus statement on the Virgin Mary by the joint Anglican-Roman Catholic International [dialogue] Commission (ARCIC), released on May 19 in Seattle, the Anglican side appeared to concede everything, the Catholic side nothing. —Edward E. Plowman

Here’s the first feature by Ed Plowman that the WORLD search engine turned up: “The death of the party: WORLD’s religion correspondent remembers Anton LaVey. By Edward E. Plowman. Issue Date: November 29, 1997.”

I first met Anton Szandor LaVey in early 1967, a few months after he announced the founding of the First Church of Satan. His Victorian-style house, its interior painted black, was not far from my parsonage at the edge of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. I was both a pastor intensely involved in youth outreach and a writer for several Christian publications. On both grounds, I wanted to know about this new cult on the block.

Ever the carnival showman who played the part, LaVey was decked out in black when he answered the doorbell, from a black cape and suit to his well-trimmed black mustache, goatee, and pointed eyebrows beneath a shaved dome. The shades were drawn; I took notes by candlelight. His wife and a daughter occasionally peeked in from the kitchen. In one sense, it was hard not to like him. He explained his hedonist beliefs candidly and humorously. He was totally up front—in contrast to many liberal church leaders I had interviewed about their beliefs.

Anton LaVey was born across the Bay in Oakland in 1930. We were contemporaries. He seemed curious about the work I was doing in the neighborhood. Although as a pastor, I represented “the enemy,” he invited me to return “anytime,” including when he conducted “black masses.” I accepted the offer.

It took little time to discover that Anton LaVey was not into supernatural Satanism at all. He would have been first to flee if Satan or a demon had appeared during a black mass. LaVey described practitioners of supernatural Satanism as “nut cases,” and he had no use for lawbreakers. He was an atheist, using Satan as a symbol to help people deal with guilt-ridden consciences. I suggested LaVey was a “hopeful agnostic: you hope God doesn’t exist.” He chuckled and fired back with barbs of his own, including one that became enshrined as the Ninth Statement of Satanism in his Satanic Bible (1969): “Satan has been the best friend the church has ever had; he has kept it in business all these years!”

Typically, those who attended the black masses were people with church backgrounds; some were well-known show biz personalities (I sat next to Barbara McNair one night). I was surprised at the number of former Presbyterians among them. LaVey counseled them: “Everything the church taught you was a vice is really a virtue, and everything it said was a virtue is really a vice. The church has told you physical and mental gratification is sin; it’s good, it’s fun, it’s right. Life is a party. Enjoy it. Eat, drink, and be merry—to the fullest. Sin is if you don’t.”

So, boiled down, the LaVey brand of Satanism was a system of mental gymnastics and self-delusion. It was designed to insulate people from emotional and conscience-related consequences of their self-centeredness and licentiousness.

I once accompanied LaVey in a hearse to a graveside “service” for one of his young-adult parishioners. “What is the meaning of death for you?” I asked as we drove along 19th Avenue. “It means having to leave the party,” he replied. “That he had to leave the party so early saddens us all.”

Late last month Anton LaVey himself left the party (heart failure and edema). Some party. I lost touch with him after I moved from San Francisco in 1970, but I followed his doings in the press. A wrecked family, dissension and backstabbing by followers (he said his flock numbered 10,000), financial upheaval, moral chaos. But all that was a piece of cake compared with what he must be facing today: sad realities. Satan and hell are among them. Edward E. Plowman

To read Ed Plowmans last WORLD featurethis years cover story obituary of Billy Grahamplease go here.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is Reforming Journalism. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

Comments

  • Dick Friedrich
    Posted: Sun, 12/23/2018 01:49 am

    Great commendation for good reporting and a good reporter.

  • homer
    Posted: Sun, 12/23/2018 10:15 am

    Are there any plans to assemble all of his writings in book form?

  • Theodore
    Posted: Sun, 12/23/2018 11:10 am

    All Glory to God for His creation of a man who lived for and loved his Savior.  Now he has gone home to live with his Lord forever.  Welcome home Ed!

  • SAWGUNNER
    Posted: Wed, 12/26/2018 12:02 pm

    We lost a true gem in the crown. Lord welcomes you with wide open arms Ed Plowman

  • SAWGUNNER
    Posted: Thu, 12/27/2018 08:54 am

    To extend the hand of collegiality-- to "agree to disagree" yet do so so amicably-- that encapsulated his greatness. Too many folks on opp sides of whatever divide merely shout past one another.

  • SAWGUNNER
    Posted: Thu, 12/27/2018 08:56 am

    We need more seminarian journalists and more journalists who live for Christ. He leaves big shoes to fill.