As news spread early yesterday morning that Evangelist preacher Billy Graham died at his home in Montreat, both the faithful and followers of Graham reflected on the Charlotte-born preacher’s genuine nature and charm.
Pastor David Chadwick of Forest Hill Church in Charlotte remembers the first time he met Rev. Billy Graham. Chadwick was a young pastor in his early 30s and was seated next to Graham at a fundraiser.
"The funniest part of that evening, was in the middle of the meal he said ‘David I’ve heard some wonderful things about the ministry of the Forest Hill Church.' What do you do when the greatest of all time has a compliment about your ministry?" Chadwick said. "I finally turned to him and not knowing what to say I said ‘Well Dr. Graham, thank you. I’ve heard some wonderful things about your ministry too!’ He treated me as a young guy who just made a huge faux pas as a normal friend in his life."
Chadwick says it’s not clear who the next ‘Billy Graham’ will be.
"I think it’s always difficult to say that someone is the next anybody because we are all so unique. But at this point I don’t see that person," Chadwick said. "But maybe that's God's reminder that the most effective way for his message to continue to be proclaimed is not one person preaching all around the world, but for the multiple millions who have the opportunity to preach to be as faithful as Dr. Graham was."
Anne Wills is an associate professor at Davidson College who is also the co-editor of the book "Billy Graham: American Pilgrim." She is also the author of an upcoming biography of Graham's wife, Ruth Bell Graham. She’s convinced there will never be another Billy Graham.
"I don’t know a single person who ticks all the boxes of media savvy, sincerity, heartfelt with a genuine message," Wills said. "I just don’t see anybody that has that coming up that line."
One of the things that set Graham apart, Wills says, was that every word from Graham was carefully calibrated and well thought out, while still managing to sound sincere.
"There are people who love him and people who can’t stand him and I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. He was a really complicated and enchanting person," Wills said.
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett definitely falls into that first category. Not long after news broke of Graham’s passing, Puckett sent out an email suggesting that Stephens Road Nature Preserve be renamed the “Dr. Billy Graham Nature Preserve.”
"I am proud that he is known to have been from Charlotte, Mecklenburg County. I think in the grand scheme of things of all the people who have lived in America, if I had to pick one guy to claim as a native son, I think Billy Graham would be the one," Puckett said.
Dwayne Walker is the pastor of Little Rock AME Zion Church. He remembers growing up watching Graham on television and his passion for spreading Christianity. But he did point out there were times when he wished Graham would use his voice to speak out for those who didn’t have one.
"I think being the voice he had and the influence that he had, sometimes you regret that more was not said to insist that the disparities that were experienced in this country were not as pronounced as they’d been," Walker said. "And someone with that kind of voice and that type of opportunity to sit with those people who could make change, you would hope that that would happen. But at the end of the day perhaps he did what he could."
When you look at it, Walker reflected, all of us could do more with our lives. But none of us, Walker says, can say we did as much as Billy Graham did when it comes to introducing people to Christianity.