33: Jean Ford

33: Jean Ford

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 33 •
JEAN FORD

Sister of Mr. Graham

There were four of us siblings growing up together. Billy is the oldest, and I’m the youngest. I also had a sister and another brother. It was a strong Christian home where every night at eight o’clock everything stopped and we had Bible reading and prayer.

As long as I can remember, Billy was interested in preaching. When he made a commitment of his life to God he was seventeen years old, which meant I was three or four. So as long as I can remember, he has had this commitment.

Billy worked in the dairy farm but he did not like that kind of work, unlike my other brother Melvin, who loved it. Melvin later took over the dairy farm and went on to become a very successful businessman. Billy, on the other hand, wanted to read. He read everything he could get his hands on. I remember him sitting in the living room biting his fingernails, reading.

Billy has always been there for me. He’s always been a big brother. It’s understandable that I should think of him in that way, given the age difference, but it was more than that.

I think of one particular incident involving Billy early in my life that still touches my heart, all these years later. It happened when I was eleven years old. I had polio. Polio was a common disease in those days, especially for children, and it could have devastating consequences. Billy and Ruth had left Charlotte only a short while prior, and they were in Chicago, where Billy had a little church. But as soon as they heard I had polio they got in the car and drove straight back down here. And that was a long drive back in those days, before the Interstate highways were built. When they arrived back home I was in quarantine so I couldn’t see him, but his actions at that time made such a statement to me. It showed how much he cared. It turned out later that at the time they were fearful that I would not survive.

I have of course many other memories of Billy. I participated in his wedding to Ruth. That was sixty-nine years ago, and I doubt whether anyone else who was in it, other than Billy, is still alive. Billy and Ruth were married on Friday the 13th, and Ruth said that just as she walked up the steps of the church, a black cat ran across her path. But so much for superstition — they had a wonderful marriage! Ruth was a very strong woman. She has been portrayed as just being behind the scenes, but she had a lot of influence. She was very cheerful, always looking on the bright side of things.

Another wonderful contribution Billy made to my life was that he introduced me to my future husband. Billy met Leighton in Canada when Leighton was sixteen. When Billy came home he told me about him. And when Billy found out that Leighton and I would be going to the same college, he told us to look each other up. We did, and we fell in love. We were married fifty-eight years ago, and it was Billy who performed the ceremony. He was very nervous because he was not accustomed to doing weddings. I remember him saying, “Now Jean and Leighton are going to be sharing this rings.” The audience laughed at the slip up. It was a sweet, amusing moment.

Just as Billy has always been a big brother to me, I think I have always been a little sister to him. When I visit him now, well into his nineties, he wants me to sit with him, and he holds my hand and calls me sweetheart all the time. He has never let me get beyond age seventeen! As far as he is concerned, I’m still his little sister. And as far as I am concerned, my big brother still looks so great, with that beautiful white head of hair. He is a loving, kind, gracious gentleman, he really is.

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