On Wednesday, July 26, 2023, Paul Joseph Dempsey met his Creator and Lord. He was not a great
theological figure or celebrity. But he was my dad. And for the six of us who knew him in that role, it is
time to say goodbye.
My dad was born and raised in Mayfield, Pennsylvania. Some of my earliest memories are of us
going to visit my Aunt Jean-Marie and grandmother in his childhood home. While playing with cousins or
sitting and reading, I would often listen to the stories being told by the adults all around us.
There were stories about dad’s strict Roman Catholic upbringing, which included 12 years of
Catholic school, being taught by nuns, and getting his knuckles rapped with a ruler when he stepped out
of line. I heard about the rivalry between his Catholic High School and the local public school and some
of the shenanigans that took place during basketball games. It was in these stories that a picture of my dad
as a young man began to form. A young man who was more of a follower than a leader…he told stories of
drag racing down rural PA roads with his friend Jimmy Richards. Oddly, dad was always the passenger in
those stories, and never the driver.
My dad was not an athlete, and this would play a role in my view of him after I was born. He once
jokingly told me that the only sport he ever played was chess at Penn State. That is where dad headed
after high school graduation. However, his life took a detour when he ran into an FBI recruiter on the
campus. At the height of the Cold War, my dad left college and took a job with the FBI in Washington,
DC. It wasn’t a glamorous job, but a position working with fingerprints in the Identification Division.
Unknown to him at the time, this is a job that my dad would hold for over 40 years.
After dad moved to DC, he met a girl. No, not my mom (that would come shortly), but a very
important woman, nonetheless. He met a woman who began to ask him hard questions about his faith and
his relationship with Christ. Despite his religious background, many of the questions being asked were
new, and my father began to wrestle with the concept of justification by faith alone and what salvation
truly meant. This eventually led him to a saving knowledge of Christ, and a strong faith that would last
the rest of his life.
Dad accepted Christ during the period of church history that is chronicled in the movie “Jesus
Revolution.” That movie struck a major chord with me because it reminded me so much of my childhood
faith experience (minus the hippies…I’m not that old). Soon after accepting Christ, my dad met my mom
at a Bible study. It was one of those Bible studies that were popular during that period: held in the back of
a Christian bookstore, guitars, singing, and Bibles opened. Mom also worked for the FBI at the time (I
would later kid her that she was their “token minority” since she was legally blind). My parents soon got
married, and my birth followed not too long after.
Mom and Dad began attending Calvary Chapel of Alexandria, VA around the time I was born. I
have so many memories of that church. It truly wasn’t a place…we never owned a building, but rented
different school buildings around the area, it was a body. A group of believers who loved Jesus and cared
for each other. It wasn’t perfect, but I was taught the Bible and heard the gospel at a very young age. My
parents were not “halfway” people when it came to church. We were there, and we were there all the time.
Sunday School, Sunday morning, Sunday night, and special events…we were always at church.
Dad was one who led by example. There were areas where this was a strength. He made sure that
he was working to take care of us, and that we were at church all the time, and that no other activities
interfered with worship. Other forms of leadership did not come as naturally. We struggled to have
consistent family worship in the home (a struggle that I am all-too familiar with as the father of five
young kids of my own!). But I will never forget the impact of my dad making sure that his family was at
corporate worship each week, even later when we moved, and he was working nights. He would get home
from work Sunday morning and be in church a few hours later. That lesson is one that I pray I have taken
At Calvary Chapel dad grew in his walk with the Lord. Some of my fondest memories are of
hearing him quietly playing his guitar in the living room of our apartment before getting the carpool into
the FBI building in DC. Dad was musically gifted. He never learned to read music but learned to play
both the guitar and keyboard by ear. At a certain point our pastor asked him to come to the local jail to
help with music for services there. This was a task he took on willingly for several years, and I believe the
experience stretched him. He also took part in a Bible-smuggling trip with a group taking Bibles in China
for underground churches. These were the experiences that shaped him as a young Christian and a
When I was 12, our family moved to West Virginia. Robert C. Byrd had gotten a deal to get the
entire Identification Division of the FBI to move, and my family went with it. It was a good move for us,
and mom and dad were able to buy their first house. That house is the same house my mom still lives in
and the same house in which my father took his last breath on this side of heaven.
After our move, dad continued to work hard and take care of his family. He and mom tapped out
after 6 kids, and we kept them busy. But dad was always there. He took me to practices and games and
tournaments. He watched and talked with me afterwards. He didn’t care at all for sports, but he loved his
kids, and that continues to mean a lot to me to this day.
In the end, dad’s body failed him. He passed away far too soon and far too young. I mourn the
loss. I cherish the memories. Memories of a father who was simply faithful. I mourn for my own children,
the youngest of whom will never know him and never have memories of him. But I don’t mourn as one
who has no hope. Because dad walked with God, and God took him. And when he breathed his last here
on this broken earth, he entered the presence of his Savior. And one day we will live together again on an
earth remade. An earth on which there will be no death, no pain, no suffering, and where grandkids will
never again wonder what their grandparents were like. I look forward to that day.