The end came for Harold Camping not with a catastrophic earthquake rolling across the planet, as he notoriously proclaimed would happen May 21, 2011.

The end came for Harold Camping not with a catastrophic earthquake rolling across the planet, as he notoriously proclaimed would happen May 21, 2011.

Instead, Camping — the Oakland, Calif.-based evangelist who used a worldwide radio ministry, thousands of billboards and millions of dollars in donations to predict the end of the world — succumbed to injuries suffered when he fell last month in his Alameda home. He died there Sunday, family at his side, according to a release from his Family Radio, almost two years after suffering a stroke that severely limited his ability to preach. He was 92.

Camping, a retired civil engineer and University of California, Berkeley, graduate, first predicted the rapture in 1994, writing a book on a complicated biblical mathematical formula, and then blaming a math error when it failed to materialize.

Leading up to his failed May 2011 rapture prophecy, Camping's nonprofit raised more than $216 million in donations from 1997 through 2011, spending more than $5 million on more than 5,000 billboards to proselytize the end of the world, according to tax documents. When the world did not end, he revised his forecast to five months later. After the October 2011 prediction also failed, a defeated Camping vowed to end his soothsaying.

In the two years since, his ministry has struggled financially, selling its three largest radio stations and seeing its worth drop from $135 million in 2007 to $29.2 million by the end of 2011.

Despite the significant donations, supporters and detractors alike said Camping lived a frugal life in his modest Alameda home with his wife, Shirley, of 71 years.

"His integrity is so unassailable that I never harbored a thought that he got any greater wealth," said Richard Palmquist, who founded Family Radio in 1958 with Camping. The pair used $5,000 in seed money from Camping's construction company and printed up solicitation brochures, raising $20,000 in loans. The pair started the ministry by buying Bay Area radio station KEIR, the first of hundreds.

After seven years, the pair had a falling out, and Palmquist - now 82 and living in Southern California - still has mixed feelings about his former mentor, calling him a "consecrated contradiction."

"I've never known anyone who was so genuinely devoted to the Lord," Palmquist said. "I never knew anyone who studied the Bible so ardently, but the contradiction was that his academic background was in numbers, not words.

"He viewed everything in life as 'where's the blueprint, how can numbers be applied,' " he said. "As in a train wreck, he jumped the rails, and he certainly doesn't do it with evil intent. It's just his training. The Bible is the word of God, not the numbers of God."

Other former employees felt Camping never took responsibility for the followers who lost everything believing the world was truly ending.

"Even in the end, he was never sorry for anything he did to people," said Matt Tuter, a 55-year-old San Leandro resident and longtime assistant to Camping who was fired last year.


Charles Sarno, an associate professor of sociology at Holy Names University in Oakland, has been working for two years on a book about Family Radio's "May 21 movement" and the rapture followers.

"Camping's a fascinating character. He was extremely intelligent, extraordinarily gifted in many ways, but also extraordinarily stubborn," Sarno said, noting many outsiders viewed Camping as a "charlatan" fleecing his flock.

"While I suspect his teachings served certain ego needs - what religion doesn't? - he was never in it for the money, and this is witnessed by the modest lifestyle he lived up until his death," Sarno said.

As for the future of Family Radio, he predicts, "The ministry will get smaller and smaller and smaller until it fades out. It doesn't go out with a bang, it goes out with a whimper."


)2013 Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

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