Byron Jessup, 1922-2011

Brother Byron Jessup, longtime Lexington minister, dies at 88

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comFebruary 6, 2011 

A well-known Lexington minister who spent more than 30 years on local television and radio died Friday at his home.

Brother Byron Jessup, 88, spent 52 years as a minister at Revival Tabernacle, a Versailles Road church that he founded after holding a revival in Lexington in 1958.

Mr. Jessup, who preferred to be called "Brother" rather than "Reverend," had Parkinson's disease and had also recently suffered from heart problems, said Debrah Ward, Jessup's daughter.

Born in Gulfport, Miss., Mr. Jessup was one of seven brothers and the son of minister W.B. Jessup, who founded the Assemblies of God Church in Little Rock, Ark.

Mr. Jessup, his brothers and two sisters often traveled across the country with their father, performing at various revivals, Ward said.

"The first time he preached he was 7 years old," said Ward. "He just had it."

Along with the ability to preach, the Jessups were also blessed with musical abilities. Mr. Jessup played the four-string banjo. His brothers played an assortment of other instruments.

Mr. Jessup and his brother Darrell both served in World War II, Ward said. They were frequently asked to entertain the troops by either playing or doing comedy routines like those performed by Abbott and Costello.

After being discharged in June 1946, Mr. Jessup joined his other brothers in Texas. Known as the Jessup Brothers, they were featured on a radio program that reached as far away as England.

They traveled around the country, singing and preaching. "They had purchased an old Ringling Bros. circus tent," Ward said.

Byron Lee Jessup, Mr. Jessup's son, said the tent was often packed on revival days.

But when Mr. Jessup came to Lexington in 1958, the people at the revival asked him to stay.

He did. He stopped preaching two years ago, at around the time of his 50th anniversary with the Revival Tabernacle, said Ward.

He spent 33 ½ years on local television. He started on WKYT and later moved to WTVQ. He was also on several radio programs.

"There were people in the mountains that didn't have a preacher except for Dad," Ward said. "So when someone in their family died, they would call him. He was their minister. He would come and do their funerals even if he didn't know them. He never turned anyone down."

Mr. Jessup told the Herald-Leader in a 1983 story that he preferred to remain nondenominational because he wanted the church to remain open to everyone and anyone.

"We're not dogmatic on some particular belief," Mr. Jessup said. "We pride ourselves in taking the entire Bible as it is and not emphasizing one particular phase. This gives us a freedom of spirit."

Mr. Jessup is survived by his wife, Margaret Jessup. He had four children, Byron Lee Jessup of Lexington, Nathan Jessup of Jacksonville, Fla., Debrah Ward of Lexington and John Jessup of Barbourville.

Gary Ward, Debrah Ward's husband, is now the minister at Revival Tabernacle.

Funeral services will be 1 p.m. Wednesday at Revival Tabernacle. Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the church. Contributions are suggested to Revival Tabernacle, P.O. Box 1533, Lexington, KY 40588.

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