27: E. Rolland Dickson

27: E. Rolland Dickson

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 27 •

Emeritus Professor of Medicine, Mayo Clinic; personal physician of Mr. Graham

Doctor Graham and I first met thirty years ago at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, when his physician at that time, Dr. Carl Morlock, transferred responsibility for Billy to me. That turned out to be one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me! While I served as Billy’s physician, we also became close friends. In fact, I consider him one of my best friends.

Taking care of Billy’s health has been a tremendous privilege and, at times, a bit of a challenge. I recognized how important he is to so many people and I felt responsible for providing the best care possible. I have valued both aspects of our special relationship; serving as his personal physician and enjoying the depth and treasure of our unique friendship.

Billy is genuine. He often visited in our home and with my family. On some occasions he would come into the living room, stretch out his six-foot two-inch frame, take off his shoes, and sit on the floor with my two sons, Mark and Rolland. He was completely open with them and allowed them to ask him questions that, at first, I thought might be a little uncomfortable. They talked openly about everything from girls to drugs, smoking, and alcohol.

Billy’s authenticity is real and young people recognize this quality even more than adults. Billy’s visits became important to my sons and they often asked to bring their friends when he planned a trip to Rochester.

The influence and intimacy of Billy’s relationship with our family was made clear by an event that took place when Mark was in eighth grade. He came home one day with a bruise on his cheek, bringing with him his good friend, Rocky. Some classmates had made fun of Rocky for wearing a cross necklace. Mark and Rocky had gotten into a fight defending this symbol of his faith and Mark was concerned about how Dr. Graham would view fighting and wondered if he would be disappointed in them.

I replied, “No, you were standing up for something you believed in and Billy would have approved of that.”

I was blessed to have known Billy’s children and his late wife, Ruth. Billy and Ruth adored each other and were a wonderful match. They met in college and I think Ruth is the only woman that Billy ever truly loved. She was warm, talented, gracious, and beautiful.

We have wonderful memories of visiting Ruth and Billy in their Montreat, North Carolina home. Because Billy loved the apple pies my mother-in-law baked, we made it a point to bring one with us whenever we visited their home. During our stay, I routinely would review his medical status and then share time just talking. We both appreciated this special time together and consider the hours a memorable blessing to both of us.

When my wife, Susan, and I visited him a few years ago, we found him sitting on the front porch of their beautiful, log cabin-style home. It sits at the top of a small mountain at the end of a long, winding single-lane road that is not easy to navigate. When he was young, Billy ran up and down the road for exercise. He was a good athlete and in excellent physical condition most of his adult life. I told Billy that I worried a little about the house’s remote location, but he said he would never leave. It was “their home” and he loved it!

Whenever I arrive and depart, he has a special prayer with me. He also has written me letters that I will always cherish. I have kept them all in two three-ring notebooks. People often ask each other what they would save in case of a fire. I would save some pictures and the notebooks with Billy’s letters to me.

Billy is always modest and unassuming. As he headed out to a ballgame in Florida once, he told me, “Rollie, I’m going to wear a baseball hat and sunglasses and nobody will recognize me.”

I responded, “Are you serious? Billy, everyone will know who you are, so just be prepared for that.” Despite being one of the most visible, recognizable people in the world, he was modestly convinced that the baseball cap and sunglasses would assure that no one would recognize him.

Speaking of being recognized, wherever he went, he was always generous with his time and willing to speak with anyone. People would approach him and ask, “May I just shake hands with you?” or “Would you sign my Bible?” and he would give his undivided attention to each of them. Often, when we would go out for dinner, people would stop and comment, “You’ve changed my life” or “You’ve been an inspiration.” He was never irritated or impatient. I, on the other hand, would be impatient to sit down and start dinner while Billy would continue visiting, graciously sharing himself with others. He is a true celebrity who never thinks of himself as a celebrity.

Another example of his lack of self-importance. My wife, Susan, and I were attending one of Billy’s crusades at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. We were seated with his wife, Ruth, and shortly before Billy was scheduled to deliver his address, we were notified that Dr. Graham would like to see us. They put us in a golf cart and whisked us down to an area underneath the stadium where Billy was sitting quietly. He welcomed us with a big hug.

When we sat down, I looked at my watch and said, “Billy, we don’t want to stay too long.” He inquired, “Why not?” I answered, “You’re on in seven or eight minutes.” “Oh, but I’m enjoying this,” he explained. I was looking at my watch, nervously thinking that he had to be on the podium preaching to 120,000 people in only minutes but, for that moment, he was just happy to see us.

One of the things I have found most impressive about Billy is his acceptance of everyone, irrespective of race, nationality, or religious beliefs. He was one of the first individuals to make his religious events open to people of all races and all nationalities. He was an early supporter of the civil rights movement and desegregation.

Mayo Clinic has a broad network of patients and visitors from around the world, from royalty, heads of state and Hollywood celebrities to ordinary, everyday people. As a Mayo physician, I have had the privilege of meeting and serving a wide and diversified number of individuals. However, I have never met anyone who has been such an inspiration and the source of hope to millions of people around the world.

Billy Graham’s message is simple and straightforward: “God loves you.” He is the most Christ-like person I have ever known.

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