- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 5, 2002

Dr. Walt Larimore has delivered 1,500 babies and was the first to shepherd through a birth over a live Internet telecast.
As a Christian commentator, moral conservative and pro-family advocate, as well, he now may play midwife to the future of the influential broadcast ministry, "Focus on the Family," which marks its 25th year in July.
Ministry founder and child psychologist James Dobson, who is 66 and suffered a heart attack and stroke in recent years, is showing signs of grooming a successor, and Dr. Larimore is among the prime candidates.
"His board of directors have begun to encourage him and advise him to consider how, and if, 'Focus on the Family' should continue in a day when he would no longer be around," Dr. Larimore said on a recent visit to Washington.
"These considerations became more acute when he had his heart attack [in 1990], and even more acute when he had his stroke in 1998," said the Duke-trained family physician, who hosted "Ask the Family Doctor," a television show on America's Health Network, for five years.
Last spring, Mr. Dobson introduced Dr. Larimore to his millions of listeners. "We've got such plans for you, you won't believe it," he said. "I'm most excited about your work in the media in the past."
Paul Hetrick, spokesman for the $128 million ministry, which has 85 components, said Mr. Dobson's health is good and that more medical expertise is needed on the ministry's communications staff.
Bill Maier, another practicing child and family counselor who, like Mr. Dobson, has a doctorate in clinical psychology, also has gained prominence on "Focus" programs in the past year.
"'Focus' is covering a wider range of issues, and they are becoming more complex," Mr. Hetrick said. They include stem cell research, cloning, abortion, homosexuality, sexual diseases, new drug treatments for children, family psychology, and faith and health.
"He's a proven communicator," he said of Dr. Larimore.
Dr. Larimore, who has written chapters in 17 medical books and 300 journal articles, now hosts live "Ask the Doctor" national call-ins and recently began syndicating medical news updates to network affiliates.
"In a couple weeks, we will be opening a live studio, which will allow us to interact with national news programs," Dr. Larimore said, referring to how medical experts are piped in to comment on new events.
On "Focus" broadcasts, he has counseled call-in teens confused about, for example, whether they had lost their virginity in certain sexual acts. He has spoken at conferences on spiritual and medical perspectives on men and women, and he teaches at medical schools on doctors being aware and informed of the "spiritual history" of patients.
Dr. Larimore, whose daughter was born with cerebral palsy and now is a college student, said that, for 20 years, he and his wife relied on such Dobson books as "When God Doesn't Make Sense." They read "The Strong-Willed Child" when raising their son, who also may enter medicine.
Then Dr. Larimore had dinner in Colorado Springs with Mr. Dobson in October 1990.
"It is hard for me as a listener to want to hear another voice, when someone has so touched my life, my family's life," Dr. Larimore said. "So I understand the sensitivity of introducing new voices. An audience has to get used to this."
Meanwhile, a ministry official said there's is too much to do right now to even think about retirements or transitions.
Among the ministry's 85 projects, "Focus" has several pro-family magazines with a total circulation of 3.5 million subscribers, receives 16,000 phone calls and 36,000 pieces of mail a week, and is supported by 2.6 million regular donors.
"We have about four or five thousand active items, books and tapes and other kinds of family resources, in our warehouse," Mr. Hetrick said.
Mr. Dobson's most recent book, "Bringing Up Boys," made the New York Times best-seller list.
Yet founder-led organizations invariably face changes and transition, which a ministry official said will hinge on decisions of the 11-member board of directors.
Dr. Larimore said Focus has served millions of Christian families through their trials of life.
"My mission is to seek to expand that to people who are not yet of faith," he said. "Not in any way to push faith upon them, but my belief is that people come to trust God by first trusting people of faith."
During his 20 years of medical practice in central Florida, Dr. Larimore testified before and advised the state assembly, and he is ready to do likewise on Capitol Hill, where Mr. Dobson frequently has visited over the years.
"I believe speaking in the public square should be done the same way as speaking to a patient," Dr. Larimore said, "with respect, sensitivity, permission, order, love."
Last year, Mr. Dobson introduced Dr. Larimore with a hint of what they share in common and a hint of change.
"I believe the Lord is in it; he has been pushing me in this direction," he said of bringing Dr. Larimore on staff. "And like you, I'm kind of hard-headed, Walt, but I got the message. So, welcome. Our listeners are going to hear a lot from you."


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