In the book Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me family members, friends and Christian leaders tell 101 stories about Billy Graham. This excerpt is from the forward and is written by A. Larry Ross who served as Billy Graham's spokesman since 1981.
The universality and accessibility of Mr. Graham’s message was powerfully impressed upon me one Friday evening in 1984 when he preached to the upper echelons of British society, including the Queen of England, several members of the Royal Family and the Lords and Ladies of London at a black-tie dinner in London.
The following Sunday afternoon, I accompanied the evangelist to an outdoor park in the City’s East End, where he was scheduled to address a crowd of 5,000 low-income immigrants. As our vehicle approached the venue, I asked Mr. Graham what message he planned to preach, to which he replied, “The same sermon I gave to the Royal family two nights ago.”
A Life Marked by Humility, Integrity, Authenticity and Love
My longtime pastor in Dallas defines success as “when those who know you best, love you the most,” and that certainly holds true for Billy Graham. In an era where confidence in institutions is crumbling, and even religious organizations are being scrutinized or Christian leaders criticized for behavior inconsistent with their beliefs, he has long modeled courage, character and conviction and stood as an example of how to finish well.
Associate evangelist Ralph Bell once referred to Mr. Graham as a leader “who walked with the Lord daily.” That is the measure of the man -- who he really is -- and the source of his spiritual strength and power.
Through the years, many reporters have asked me to sum up Billy Graham’s life and legacy in one word. But in response, I have to use four: humility, integrity, authenticity and love -- each of which I have observed consistently in my travels with him.
In July 1999 I accompanied Mr. Graham to the local NBC affiliate in Jacksonville, where he did a remote interview with Katie Couric on Today. While waiting in the green room, the floor producer asked me if he would be willing to sign her copy of his recently published memoirs, Just As I Am.
Despite symptoms of Parkinson’s that made writing difficult, he was happy to oblige, which so touched the young woman that she asked Mr. Graham if she could pray for him. That moved me deeply, as it was the first time in my quarter century of traveling with him that someone took such an initiative, rather than asking him to offer a prayer on his or her behalf.
After the producer left the room, Mr. Graham turned to me and said genuinely, “I have never understood why in the world anyone would want my autograph.” At first I thought he was joking, but then realized his puzzled sincerity was reflective of his self-identification as “a country boy called to preach,” who could not fathom why the Lord chose him to be blessed with such spiritual responsibility and global opportunity.
As best I could, I tried to clarify for Mr. Graham what his inscription in her book meant to that young woman and others who made similar requests through the years, explaining his obvious influence and the significant impact of his ministry on her, since she had made a faith commitment at one of his crusades as a teenager. To my surprise, he responded, somewhat matter-of-factly, “I have only asked for one autograph in my whole life.”
Now it was I who was flummoxed, as I sat in stunned silence trying to determine who that individual would have been, going over in my mind myriad celebrities, influencers and world changers Mr. Graham had met during his travels.
At first I thought it was Babe Ruth, whom I knew he greeted after a ballgame when he was twelve years old. My second candidate was President Truman, whom he met on his first visit to the White House in the early 1950s. Or possibly it was Winston Churchill, who summoned the young evangelist to his chambers after his successful mission at Wembley Stadium in 1954 to ask him the secret of gathering such huge crowds (which Billy Graham explained was due to the Holy Spirit, not anything he had done).
When I sheepishly turned to Mr. Graham and asked if any of these individuals had been worthy of such a request, he said, “No.” Acknowledging I would probably never be able to guess, he explained, “It was John Glenn. He and I sat next to each other at the March 1998 TIME magazine 75th anniversary gala at Radio City Music Hall honoring all living cover subjects.
“As we got up to leave, John asked me for my autograph,” Mr. Graham continued. “I replied, ‘I’ve never asked anyone in my whole life to sign something. Could I have yours?’ And so we swapped autographs!”
This excerpt from "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me" is provided courtesy of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC, Copyright 2013.