In Memoriam: Rev. Billy Graham
Nixon Daughters Remember Rev. Graham
The Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, America’s pastor and a close friend of President and Mrs. Nixon’s and the Nixon family’s, died today at the age of 99.
Dr. Graham presided at the funeral services for First Lady Pat Nixon in 1993 and President Nixon in 1994.
Nixon daughters, Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower offered a joint statement on his passing:
We are deeply saddened that the earthly life of America’s great crusader for Christ, the Rev. Billy Graham, has come to a close. Billy Graham’s deep faith in his God, and his profound love for our nation, made him a beloved spiritual leader to countless millions of Americans. Billy’s longtime friendship with the Nixon family was always a source of inspiration and comfort to our parents and to us. We will always be grateful for the dignity he brought to the funeral services for each of our parents and the warmth and solace he provided to our family on those sad occasions. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Graham family as they both mourn their loss and celebrate the life of this remarkable man.
Dr. Graham was a defining voice of post-war America, communicating his charismatic and passionate sermons to over 2 billion people around the world. He preached to more live audiences in over 185 countries than any other figure in history, and hundreds of millions more through television, Internet webcasts and other mediums.
His close association with President Nixon began in 1950. He was an adviser and friend throughout Nixon’s vice presidency, and Nixon would often stay at Dr. Graham’s rugged North Carolina retreat for relaxation where the two would discuss theology and politics.
Dr. Graham had planned to endorse Nixon against John F. Kennedy in the election of 1960, hotly contested and plagued with the issue of religion, as JFK was the first serious Catholic presidential contender. It raised questions, too, about the role of religion in politics.
Nixon wrote in his 1994 Beyond Peace: “Government cannot reach into people’s hearts. Religion can. That is why I strongly advised Billy Graham in 1960 not to endorse me or any other candidate for office. I told him he would undermine his own ability to change people spiritually if he engaged in activities designed to change governments politically.”
Dr. Graham, who had encouraged Nixon to again run for president in 1968, was a frequent visitor to the Nixon White House, where he regularly presided over church services in the East Room and often visited at the Nixon home in San Clemente, California. He spent the last night of Johnson’s presidency in the White House and the first night of Nixon’s.
Dr. Graham even encouraged Nixon to use teleprompters, but “since I had developed the practice of delivering my speeches without notes… I never took the time to learn to use the device. In retrospect, this was probably a mistake.”
President and Mrs. Nixon appeared at a Billy Graham Crusade in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1970, attracting a hearty crowd of over 80,000 (500,000 would come for the entire 10-day program) and where President Nixon became the first president to speak from a preacher’s podium.
Dr. Graham supported Nixon’s initiatives to desegregate Southern schools, and videotaped messages encouraging voluntary compliance with the administration’s efforts that were shown across the South. Nixon later wrote, “I am convinced it had a very positive and powerful influence.”
Nixon wrote in his 1990 memoir In the Arena: “I treasure the friendship and wise counsel Billy Graham has extended to me over the years.”
Dubbed the “Pastor to Presidents,” Dr. Graham was a spiritual advisor for every president from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton, and counseled Presidents Bush and Obama as well.
Despite his long relationship with the presidency, Dr. Graham only presided over one presidential funeral: that of Richard Nixon on April 27, 1994 at the Richard Nixon Library.
“He [President Nixon] was asked on a television interview ‘How would you like to be remembered?’” Graham said in his eulogy. “He thought a moment, and then replied ‘I’d like to be remembered as one who made a difference,’ and he did make a difference in our world.”
The prior year, on June 26, Dr. Graham officiated at the funeral of First Lady Pat Nixon also at the Nixon Library, as he had officiated at Nixon’s mother, Hannah’s, funeral at Whittier Friends Church in 1967.
“The Reverend Billy Graham was a National Treasure,” said Nixon Foundation Chairman Ron Walker and wife Anne. “Hs wise counsel to President’s of the United States is impossible to measure,” they added. Read more from Ron and Anne Walker here.
William Franklin Graham, Jr. was born on November 7, 1918 – four days before the end of World War I. At the age of 15 he made a personal commitment to Christ after being influenced by the rousing traveling preacher Mordecai Ham. Ordained in 1939, he became a pastor at the First Baptist Church in Western Springs, Illinois and joined the Youth for Christ during World War II.
His frequent series of ministry services – known as crusades – took him all around the world. His first, in 1949 in a tent at the corner of Hill and Washington Streets in Los Angeles, rocketed him to national prominence.
His establishment of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association allowed him to spread his message internationally by growing a media empire; publishing periodicals, spots on radio and television and the emergence of the Internet all brought his message directly into living rooms worldwide.
He authored 31 books and received dozens of internationally acclaimed awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion and an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. He was listed on Gallup’s “Most Admired” poll a record-breaking 56 times.