For as long as I can remember, people from all walks of life have approached me and shared how their life had been transformed through the work and ministry of Billy Graham. What makes these conversations so special to me is that Billy Graham is my grandfather, a man I’ve known all of my life as “Daddy Bill”. In the past few years, my siblings and I decided it was time to share these stories – stories from the precious individuals who filled the stadiums, watched the television specials, and read Daddy Bill’s books. Stories of hope, forgiveness, joy, and redemption. That is why I am so excited to announce the recent release of our new book entitled, Thank You, Billy Graham: A Tribute to the Life and Ministry of Billy Graham. This book is a compilation of just a sampling of these many amazing stories. In celebration of the life of one of the last great lions of the 20th century who also happens to be an amazing grandfather, I want to share a little bit of my Daddy Bill story.
Daddy Bill and I have always shared a common interest...the world of politics. We have had many interesting political conversations over the past many years. What always fascinates me is that he has been friends with so many of the subjects of our conversations! One of my favorites is the account of Daddy Bill’s meeting Winston Churchill. He recalls being in London and receiving a call from Churchill’s assistant asking if he was able to drop by the following day to meet with the prime minister. Daddy Bill turned down the invitation because he was scheduled to travel to Scotland the next morning. Yes, my grandfather turned down the opportunity to meet one of the greatest heroes of the 20th century because of his commitment to tell others about Jesus! Fortunately, that was not the end of the story. The assistant called back and asked if he was available to meet the prime minister that same evening. A few minutes later, Daddy Bill was in a cab heading to 10 Downing Street!
When I was about 12 years old, Daddy Bill invited me to go with him to the first inauguration of Ronald Reagan. Shortly after arriving at our Washington hotel, I noticed out of my room window a number of limousines pull up to the rear of the hotel. Upon doing a little bit of “investigation”, I found out that president-elect Ronald Reagan had just arrived to give a speech. I immediately convinced my grandfather’s assistant to go with me downstairs so that I might get a glimpse of the president-elect as he left the hotel. I will never forget the moment when Reagan walked out and my grandfather’s assistant introduced us and told him that I was a grandson of Billy Graham. As soon as my grandfather’s name was mentioned, Reagan smiled and began to tell me how much he loved and admired Billy Graham. As a 12 year old kid, I was so impressed that the next president of the United States knew and loved my ‘Daddy Bill’!
In 1988, I went with Daddy Bill to the Republican National Convention in New Orleans. One evening during the convention, my friend and I decided we wanted to find a car so that we could go out and have some fun exploring the ‘Big Easy’. Looking back on it, I highly doubt that the intentions of two college students in New Orleans were on the noble end of the spectrum. I remembered that my grandfather’s assistant had rented him a car and decided to go to Daddy Bill’s hotel room to see if I could convince him to allow us to borrow the car. As we arrived at his hotel at around 9 p.m., I recall thinking that we were probably wasting our time because it was highly unlikely that world famous Billy Graham would be sitting in his hotel room during the middle of a major political convention. So I was a bit surprised when Daddy Bill opened his hotel room door wearing his pajamas and invited us in. As we walked into the room, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that his Bible was open on his bed. Here was Billy Graham who could have been spending the evening with any number of the most influential and famous people of his day, and instead he chose to spend it alone with his Heavenly Father. Nobody was watching, it was a genuine love for Jesus. Wow! Needless to say, I left his room that evening forever impacted and without the car keys!
Perhaps the greatest characteristic that stands out for me about Daddy Bill is his authentic humility. The Apostle Paul writes,
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14).
This verse is given very practical meaning to me when I think of my grandfather. I have been in the room when Daddy Bill has called and spoken to the President of the United States and then gets off the phone and pulls out the chair for the housekeeper who regularly joined my grandparents for meals. Daddy Bill has always been just as interested in the lives of ‘everyday people’ such as taxi drivers, housekeepers, waitresses, etc. as he is with presidents, queens, and popes. To me, he has been a living example of one who only boasts about the Gospel of Christ and does so with all people, regardless of position, wealth, political affiliation, gender, race, or any other human characteristic or status.
For over 45 years I have seen the private life of Billy Graham and can tell you that in private he is even more humble and compassionate than he is in public. He would also be the very first to tell you (and remind you often) that he’s far from perfect and that there are many things in life he regrets. But that is what makes him so authentic in a world where all too often Christians portray a Gospel that requires outward perfection. Fake perfection. Billy Graham is the real deal. Daddy Bill is simply a sinner who was tackled by God’s grace and is thrilled to talk about it with anyone who will listen. I am grateful that so many listened.
This post was originally published on Feb 28, 2014 by RNS. It is reprinted here with their permission.