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Billy Graham’s ‘Strong, Personal Voice’ Spoke To Brother-In-Law Leighton Ford

Billy Graham died Wednesday at age 99. And as we look at his legacy a recurring question is this: Who is the next Billy Graham? It's a question that Bill Martin hears often as the author of a biography on Graham called “A Prophet With Honor.”

“It's not any one person, but these tens of thousands of preachers trained by organizations,” says Martin.  

That organization is the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Leighton Ford is a former vice president of that organization. He's also a brother-in-law to Billy Graham.

RUMSEY: Good afternoon and condolences to you and your family.

FORD: Thank you so much. We've already felt that from so many sources already today.

RUMSEY: Can you share anything about the recent days or weeks of Reverend Graham's life?

FORD: Sure. His vital signs had been good, but his hearing and his eyesight had diminished a good, good bit, so he could neither see nor hear very much. And the last time we were up there, which was around Christmas time, I'm not sure he knew we were there. But he was up every day and he was eating and he was sleeping. And just about the time we left, Jeannie said to him, ‘Billy Frank, I’m going back to Charlotte now and I wish I could take you with me.’ He said, 'Me too.' So those were the last words that that we heard from him.

RUMSEY: In recent years we didn't hear a lot about Billy Graham. Can you say what his life was like and how he occupied his time?

LEIGHTON: I don't know how he occupied his time. We wondered at ninety-nine how long he would go on, but he was well taken care of by a couple of nurses who, across the years, had taken care of him. He liked to eat bananas and lemon pie. As far as being able to communicate, for the last several years it's been only a few words at a time. I think he was somewhat aware of what was going on around him from time to time, but his hearing being so bad, it was not much response that came. Jeannie asked him a couple of years ago, ‘What do you think about all the time?’ And he waited a few moments and said, ‘I wish I could tell you.’ I'm not sure whether he meant he couldn't remember or whether he just meant he couldn’t communicate it. So to see this man so vital, so strong in his capacities and speaking, to be in his human frailty, was very poignant for us.

RUMSEY: You knew Rev, Graham both as a longtime colleague in ministry and also as family. What will you personally remember most about him?

LEIGHTON: I remember my first time I ever met him when I was a 17 year-old leader of a youth meeting and he came to be our speaker. He spoke that night and we expected that there'd be a huge response, but there wasn't. Afterwards, I was disappointed. He came over and put an arm around me and said, ‘I believe God has given you a call and a concern to see people know the Lord and I'm going to pray for you. If you stay humble, I believe God will use you.’ I've never forgotten that arm around my shoulder. When I told him that story three or four years ago and said, ‘Thank you for that arm around the shoulder,’ he just said, ‘Praise the Lord.’ So those personal touches….I remember when our daughter had a second occurrence of cancer. She was at the Mayo Clinic, but didn't know he was there too. He met her in the hall, waiting in a wheelchair. She ran to him and he hugged her and prayed for and she later said, ‘Uncle Billy, as far as I'm concerned, that's the best sermon you ever preached.’ So I remember the personal voice of Billy Graham and also that strong, clear, compelling voice, that wonderful voice he had, that was like a train in the early morning out of the prairies and that just rang out so clear. The voice and then the message that he brought, which was always focused on his favorite Bible passage John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”