Among the 2,000 or so gathered to honor Billy Graham on Friday sat a few in the front row who knew him better than anyone.
Jean, Gigi, Anne, Ruth, Franklin and Ned.
Growing up “Graham,” they were used to sharing their beloved “Billy Frank” and “Daddy” with the world.
Throughout the years—and especially this past week—they’ve heard many tell stories of how “America’s Pastor” impacted their lives. But on Friday, it was their turn. And in front of a worldwide audience, they shared precious family memories with millions watching around the globe.
Standing just steps from the house she grew up in, Jean Ford paid tribute to her big brother.
“You don’t know how funny it makes me feel to sit here and look at my house,” Ford warmed up the crowd. “And my husband [Leighton Ford] and I just had an argument about which room was mine.”
The Graham Family Homeplace, originally located about 4 miles east, was relocated to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Friday’s service was held under a 28,000-square-foot tent constructed in the parking lot.
“My brother Billy, my sister Catherine, my brother Melvin and I grew up here in this house,” she said. “We learned hard work. We learned to love the Lord. We learned to pray. We learned to love the Scriptures. And that’s never left any of us.”
Although Jean and Billy weren’t close in age, they still shared a tight-knit bond. She looked up to him throughout the years, calling him “almost perfect.”
“Being so much older, it was sort of like having a second parent,” she recalled. “I’ve always just adored him and still do.”
Billy and Ruth Graham’s oldest daughter, Gigi, shared a poem her mother penned when she was 13. Her late mother wrote of praying for the man God would one day have her marry.
Gigi talked about her father, a farm boy from Charlotte, who had no idea that the woman he would marry—and partner with for a lifetime of ministry—was praying for him from China.
“The Lord answered every single one of those prayers,” Jean said. “I’m grateful now that God has brought them back together for eternity.”
Anne Graham Lotz remembered reading Scripture to her father after their mother died.
“He was hard of hearing, so I would sit in front of him, knee to knee,” she shared.
“He would ask me to give him a full 60-minute message. … He loved to hear God’s Word. As he got weaker, it went down to five to 10 minutes.”
After she finished each message, Anne would always say, “Daddy, I love you.”
Named for her mother, Ruth Graham shared how her father welcomed her home after a short-lived marriage.
As she made the two-day drive home, questions swirled in Ruth’s mind: What was she going to say to Daddy? To Mother?
“You don’t want to embarrass your father. You really don’t want to embarrass Billy Graham,” she smiled.
“As I wound my way up the mountain, and I rounded the last bend, … my father was standing there waiting for me.
“He wrapped his arms around me. He said, ‘Welcome home.’ There was no shame. There was no blame. There was no condemnation, just unconditional love.
“He was hard of hearing, so I would sit in front of him, knee to knee,” she shared. “He would ask me to give him a full 60-minute message. … He loved to hear God’s Word. As he got weaker, it went down to five to 10 minutes.”
—Anne Graham Lotz
The baby of the family, Ned Graham, called his father faithful, available and teachable.
“I want each one of you to remember that,” he said. “May we all be that way.”
When Franklin Graham took the podium, he shared the Gospel but also offered listeners an intimate look at his father.
“When I think of my father, I can sit quietly and I can still hear his voice,” he said. “A word of encouragement, sometimes a word of caution—there were quite a few of those.
“I can recall him at home just laughing. … He had a great sense of humor.
“He loved his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, all of his family. And I remember we would take walks together along the mountain trails above his log home there in Montreat [North Carolina].
“Daddy, I won’t see you again on this earth,” he said, “but I will see you again.”
Billy Graham leaves not only a legacy of sharing the Gospel but also a family legacy of faith. He had 19 grandchildren, 44 great-grandchildren and 6 great-great-grandchildren. Some family members have followed his footsteps in ministry.
At his service, Billy Graham’s sister and all five of his children pointed to Christ—whom their father glorified for nearly seven decades.
He led so many to faith in God.
“I can only imagine what it was like for my father to step into heaven,” said Franklin. “The Lord Jesus Christ was there to say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’
“My mother, his mother, father and friends. Clapping and cheering, bells ringing, trumpets blowing.
“Not because it was Billy Graham. It was just another child of God.”