Ed Gillespie, front-runner for the GOP nomination for governor, told Liberty University’s convocation on Monday how his Catholic faith has sustained him through personal disappointments and professional setbacks.
Liberty is an important campaign stop for national and statewide GOP hopefuls seeking support among evangelical voters. Rather than talk about hot-button issues, Gillespie reflected on lessons he learned while bouncing back from rejection.
Gillespie cited Romans 8:28, which says, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
He added: “As I look back on my past, the first part of this verse explains a lot to me — all things, including defeats and unpleasant experiences, work for the good.”
Gillespie said that while “the Atlanta Falcons are having a hard time seeing that today,” it is true in his life. “You see, some of the most disappointing moments in my life have resulted in the best things that ever happened to me.”
Gillespie recalled that when he was a senior in high school, he set his sights on an elite liberal arts college in New England.
“In retrospect, given my grades and SAT scores, it was beyond my reach. But I’d convinced myself I could get in. I didn’t, and I was devastated.”
He ended up going to The Catholic University of America in Washington where he fell in love with a student whom he thought he would marry. He said they dated for a while, but the young woman transferred to another school when they were sophomores. On one of his visits to her school, Gillespie said, the woman broke up with him.
“I was heartbroken. Despondent,” he recalled. “Thought I’d never be able to be truly happy.”
He threw himself into his studies and his work. He moved up from Senate parking attendant to an internship, and, to ultimately, a full-time job for a member of Congress.
Following President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election, Gillespie interviewed with two incoming members of Congress for a press secretary job. He did not get the job with one member of the House, whom many expected to be a rising star but then ended up losing his next election.
Instead, Gillespie got the job with a “somewhat nutty professor,” Dick Armey of Texas, who rose through the ranks to become the first GOP House majority leader in 40 years.
Gillespie said his work with Armey for more than a decade prepared him to become chairman of the Republican National Committee and ultimately, White House counselor to President George W. Bush.
In Washington, on a congressional league co-ed softball team, Gillespie met Cathy Hay, his future wife. The Gillespies will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in May.
“As it’s turned out, those feelings of devastation, heartbreak and rejection earlier in my life — while not fleeting — were temporary,” Gillespie said. “And every one of them led to lasting acceptance, love and fulfillment.
“Of course, I didn’t know then what I know now. I wish I did. And I wish I had then the relationship with the Lord that I have now, because I would have had greater acceptance and much more peace in trying times,” he said.
Gillespie said he “suffered another rejection in 2014,” when he lost a squeaker to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
“But I am a better person for having made that race. And I am a better candidate now because of that experience.”
Gillespie said he loves the passage from Romans “because it puts our past in context, and helps rid us of the corrosive effect of living with regret. And it inspires us with hope for a future in accordance with God’s will.”
Gillespie is one of four Republican hopefuls for governor in the June primary, along with state Sen. Frank W. Wagner, R-Virginia Beach; Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and Denver Riggleman, co-owner of Silverback Distillery in Nelson County.
Two candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination: Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam and former Rep. Tom Perriello, D-5th.