34: Kevin Ford

34: Kevin Ford

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 34 •

Author, speaker, leadership consultant; Chief Visionary Officer of TAG Consulting, nephew of Mr. Graham

My father is Leighton Ford, and my mother is Jean Graham Ford, Billy Graham’s youngest sister. I have a sister, Debbie, and an older brother named Sandy who died thirty-one years ago. My family is from Charlotte, North Carolina.

While I was growing up I saw Uncle Billy at Thanksgiving and Christmas, typically once or twice a year. He was very loving and always gave me a big hug. We had a friendly relationship, but at the same time it was more casual. After Sandy passed away, our relationship changed in a unique way. It’s been a warm and intimate relationship ever since.

Sandy was my hero. He was a very unusual brother. He included me in social outings with his friends and so forth. He was president of his high school class, which was one of the larger schools in Charlotte. When he ran for class president, he actually gave his testimony. He also competed as one of the top milers in North Carolina. He was an all-around great guy and a very strong Christian.

When Sandy was fifteen years old, he was diagnosed with a heart problem called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, known as WPW. At Duke University Medical Center, he underwent open-heart surgery in order to sever an extra electrical pathway in the heart. The doctors thought they had corrected the problem, but five years later Sandy had a recurrence. He was running a track meet and collapsed thirty yards from the finish line. He then crawled his way across the line to win the race. It made the headlines of the Charlotte newspaper — it was a really dramatic thing.

Just after Sandy turned twenty-one years old, he went back to Duke for another open-heart surgery. At that time, I was sixteen years old and attending Windy Gap Young Life Camp in the mountains of North Carolina. I knew about the operation and assumed everything would be fine. I got a call on the evening of November 27th and found out there were complications with the surgery. I was told my Uncle Billy was coming to pick me up. I immediately sat down with a couple of the Young Life staff people and began to pray. Then, all of a sudden, I felt Sandy say, “Goodbye, Kevin. I love you.” I remember looking at my watch. It was just after 7:30 p.m.

When Uncle Billy arrived at the camp I got in the back seat with him while someone else drove. He put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Kevin, your brother, Sandy, has gone home to be with the Lord.” We both wept together. He took me back to his house in Montreat and kept his arm wrapped around my shoulders the whole time. He sobbed, and I sobbed. We prayed. He was not Billy Graham the evangelist. He was my uncle. He was a man who was deeply broken by what had just happened.

We found out the next day that Sandy passed away precisely at 7:37 p.m., which was about the time I felt him say, “Goodbye, Kevin. I love you.”

Uncle Billy let me stay at his house for two or three days, listened to me, and prayed with me. He was just as dear as he could be. Then he took me to Charlotte for the funeral, which he helped officiate.

Those moments spent with Uncle Billy forever changed our relationship. I’m sure he had thousands of other things to do with his ministry that were probably far more important, yet he made me his priority. Since then, our relationship has stayed very close.

Sandy’s death altered my view of life. At sixteen years old I no longer felt immortal. It suddenly hit me that I might die any day. My life became more intentional. Following Christ, wanting to be a support and servant to others, and wanting to be a better role model became my priority.

Uncle Billy has always been incredibly modest. Whatever car he was driving was at least twelve or thirteen years out of date, whether it was a Delta 88 or whatever. He never drove anything fancy. He did not see himself as an international celebrity. I’d hear him talk about a prime minister who he’d just had lunch with or the CEO of a multibillion-dollar company that he had met. He was just captivated and enthralled by these people. He never had a sense of being a world famous personality, even though he was often more well known and influential than many of the leaders that he was talking about.

Uncle Billy was non-judgmental and never got caught up in issues that could be divisive. He stayed focus on the Gospel. I remember one time I heard him speak at a convention and someone asked, “Dr. Graham, would you share with us your view on infant baptism versus believer baptism?” He walked up to the podium while 20,000 people waited to hear his response. His answer was very simply, “No,” and then he sat back down. He never got into controversial issues and shied away from partisan politics. He honestly loved people, and he chose to be inclusive. As a result, some of the Christian population, whether on the far right or far left, viewed him with suspicion. They believed he didn’t have a strong enough backbone. The conservatives thought he should be more conservative, and the liberals thought he was too conservative. My uncle simply stayed focused on the Gospel and did not judge.

Aunt Ruth and Uncle Billy had a wonderful relationship and enjoyed each other. She was very opinionated and had a quick wit. She was hilarious. She put him in his place. That may have been one of the things that kept him humble across the years. He knew he wasn’t a celebrity at home.

People have asked me over the years what it’s like to be Billy Graham’s nephew. What I say is, “He may be Reverend Billy Graham to the world, but he’s simply Uncle Billy to me.”

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