BELLEVUE, Wash. Dr. Sherwood Eliot Wirt, the founding editor of Decision magazine who later launched the San Diego Christian Writers Guild, passed away in his sleep Nov. 8. He was 97.
Wirt died outside of Seattle where he and his wife, Ruth, relocated about seven years ago. For the past few years he lived in an assisted-care facility. A memorial service was held Dec. 5 in Bellevue.
A long-time associate of Billy Graham, "Woody" as he was called, was born in 1911 and served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force. In 1951 he earned doctorate degrees in theology and psychology from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, which he put to good use as a church pastor.
In addition to the gospel, Wirt loved newspapers, serving as a journalist for the San Francisco Examiner and the Juneau (Alaska) Daily Press. Wirt joined the Billy Graham team after writing a book about the evangelist's 1958 crusade in San Francisco.
At Graham's direction, Wirt served as founding editor of Decision magazine, which was launched in the 1960s. Wirt guided the magazine as it reached a circulation of four million. In that role, Wirt traveled with Graham extensively over two decades, eventually penning "Billy: A Personal Look at Billy Graham," one of 42 books he authored. His books have been translated into eight languages
His books included the best-selling "The Book of Joy: A Treasury of Delights in God," "Not Me, God," "Love Song: Augustine's Confessions for Modern Man" and "For the Love of Mike: The Michael Macintosh Story," a paperback on the life of the senior pastor at Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego.
Highlights of his distinguished career include meeting Albert Einstein and visiting the White House. He was also the last writer to interview C.S. Lewis before Lewis died in 1963.
Wirt also served as the president of the Evangelical Press Association from 1969 to 1971.
After moving to San Diego upon his "retirement," Wirt founded the local guild in 1978, the largest countywide Christian writers group in the United States. Genevieve Gillespie, a longtime friend of Wirt and co-president of the guild, said the writer was active with Calvary Chapel churches and served on the board of Horizon Christian Fellowship for several years.
Among those he encouraged in writing was Jerry Jenkins, co-author of the best-selling "Left Behind" series.
"Woody, thanks for decades of mentoring, encouragement, critique, and indefatigable labor on behalf of all of us called to this glorious ministry of writing," Jenkins once wrote about his former mentor.
"Woody loved to hike and reveled in God's creation," Gillespie wrote in an online tribute to Wirt. "He loved Gilbert and Sullivan and good literature. He was passionate about the joy of the Lord, and wrote at least three books on the subject. He loved people. He loved the Lord. He loved life."
In addition to his wife, Ruth, Wirt is survived by his son and daughter-in-law, Alex and Gina, and two grandchildren, Bree and Tyler.