[OP-ED] Bill Graham's Funeral
Recently I had the opportunity and privilege to attend Billy Graham’s funeral in Charlotte, N.C. as one of only 2300 invited guests. People from all over the world from different denominations attended as well as a number of the crusade staffs. There were Asians, Whites, Blacks and Latinos. I arrived at 7:30 a.m. for the 12:00 p.m. service due to many security issues and the attendance of the President and Vice-President of the United States. There were Kings and Queens from foreign countries including Ambassadors and former government officials.
As I walked outside the huge tent trying to avoid the cold and wind, I held conversations with a number of the invited. I could find no one else from Philadelphia while I observed the beautiful grounds and the Library where Billy was to be buried next to his wife, Ruth preceded him 10 years. The two major members of his team were also buried in that location. Cliff Barrows, the choir director, and George Beverly Shea, the extraordinary baritone who sang at every crusade before Billy’s message.
William Franklin “Billy” Graham Jr. was born on November 7, 1918 on the dairy farm right next to the burial site. Billy Graham preached to nearly 215 million people across six continents starting in 1949 in Los Angeles.
In 1992 Billy held his final crusade in Philadelphia where I chaired and Rev. Bill Moore co-chaired the Crusade. It was the most diverse crusade in Billy’s history with a committee of predominately Black ministries. Over 250,000 attended over the 5 days’ at Veteran Stadium in South Philadelphia.
Billy counseled many Presidents but for me the 1992 Crusade in Philadelphia was the highlight of my spiritual life and relationship with over 500 churches from different walks and denominations with common goals and unity.
The funeral participants was limited to the family, Jean, the surviving sister of Billy, said how Ruth while in China at 13 years old wrote a poem of her ideal husband “Let him be like you” (Jesus). Virginia, his oldest daughter sounded like Billy preaching the Bible with an emphasis on the 2nd coming of Jesus.
Anne, the next youngest, spoke of her divorce, remarriage to the wrong person and becoming a single parent while her father never judged her but waited for her until she returned home, showing her what God is like. Ruth, the youngest daughter and Rev. Nelson Graham, the youngest son, emphasized that Billy never gave his opinion but the word of God and that love, faithfulness, availability and teachability was the person that Billy was to all of the family.
The oldest son, Franklin who has inherited the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association preached a message that his father would have preached at his funeral. His emphasis was that Billy was the same in public as he was in private. Billy’s aim in all was to get to heaven and have others join him in the journey. Billy said “someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it! I shall be more alive that, I am now…I will have gone into the Presence of God.” I have only changed my address.
I was privileged to hear Billy since the age of 15 on WABC radio in New York on Sundays before the Howard Cosell sports program and to walk and work with Billy in Philadelphia and other crusades. I write about my experience with Billy in my autobiography to be out in September and the events in 1992 in Philadelphia. Billy will be missed in America and throughout the world as was evident at this wonderful and inspiring funeral. Thank you Billy for allowing me to be one of the few that walked with you in life and got to see the end.