Billy Graham, Evangelist To All, Has Died

Feb 21, 2018

Billy Graham (1966)
Credit Library of Congress

The Rev. Billy Graham, a native son of Charlotte who helped transform Evangelism and was a religious counselor to presidents, has died.

A spokesman, Mark DeMoss, said Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, died at his home in Western North Carolina Wednesday morning. He was 99.

Graham was a celebrated orator and religious adviser. In his life, he was awarded the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (1982), Presidential Medal of Freedom (1983), Congressional Gold Medal (1996), honorary British knighthood (2001).

In 1999, Graham was honored by the Charlotte Chamber with its “Citizen of The Carolinas” award. Speaking to community and business leaders that night, Graham recalled the summer following his high school graduation, when the future evangelist sold Fuller Brushes in South Carolina.

Graham said the experience stayed with him.

“I never lost the desire to be a salesman, and I think that’s what I am in a way – I’m trying to sell people on the idea of coming to know Christ as their Lord and their master and their savior,” Graham said.

Graham thanked the hometown audience for the award and statue that he received that night, adding that he wanted to give his audience a gift as well:

“And I would like to give you a gift of a question: do you know where your destination is? And that’s the greatest gift I believe I could offer you, is to ask you to be sure that you know the answer to that question,” he said.

Graham was also a prolific writer, authoring 32 books including his best-selling 1997 autobiography, "Just As I Am." He reached more than 200 million through his appearances and millions more through his pioneering use of television and radio. Unlike many traditional evangelists, he abandoned narrow fundamentalism to engage broader society.

He married Ruth McCue Bell in 1943, who died in 2007.

Graham is survived by his five children: Virginia ("Gigi"), Anne, Ruth, William Franklin Graham III ("Franklin," his father's successor as B.G.E.A. leader), Nelson ("Ned").

Franklin Graham commented on the death of his father in the following tweet:

In a Facebook post titled, "Daddy is at Home," Graham's daughter Ann Graham Lotz said she hopes the death of her father would be a "rallying cry." She said she hopes that "tens of thousands of pastors, teachers, evangelists, and ordinary men and women will rise up to take [her father's] place" because "daddy's message is God's message."

Graham's death has received mention from leaders in the following tweets: 

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper also released a statement that said, "Billy Graham was a strong, humble, positive and passionate North Carolina man of faith who made a difference in the lives of so many. Rest with God, Reverend Graham."

Also in a statement, Congressman Robert Pittenger said, "even in his final months, confined by the bonds of old age, his focus remained on telling others about the love of Jesus.  While we mourn, I am convinced he very much looked forward to this day when he finally met his Savior face to face."  

Former President George W. Bush said in a statement, "A great man, a humble servant, and a shepherd to millions has passed on. Billy Graham was a consequential leader. He had a powerful, captivating presence and a keen mind. He was full of kindness and grace. His love for Christ and his gentle soul helped open hearts to the Word, including mine."

Former President Bill Clinton also released a statement that said, "I will never forget the first time I saw him, 60 years ago in Little Rock, during the school integration struggle. He filled a football stadium with a fully integrated audience, reminding them that we all come before God as equals, both in our imperfection and our absolute claim to amazing grace. ... Billy has finished his long good race, leaving our world a better place and claiming his place in glory."