36: Bill Gaither

36: Bill Gaither

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 36 •

Grammy Award and Gospel Music Association award-winning Christian singer and songwriter

In 1976, Cliff Barrows invited my wife Gloria and me to perform at one of Billy Graham’s crusades in Toronto. This was in one of those big stadiums with 60,000-70,000 people in attendance. We were a young married couple at the time, and our songs were catching on, but we hadn’t performed at that level yet.

We arrived the night before and met some of the staff. I said, “Where is Mr. Graham?” I had seen him on television programs like Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in the 1960s and really admired him for his ability to articulate his message to a secular audience. On occasions like that, he wasn’t preaching to the choir, he was talking to regular people.

Since I had never met him, I was excited by the prospect, but I still had to wait for a while. I found out that for security reasons his staff would not disclose where he was staying. They were smart. They protected him very well.

The next day, Cliff was rehearsing a 5,000-voice boys’ choir. It was a pretty amazing thing. We went onto the platform, where there were a lot of dignitaries, including government officials and clergy, but still no Billy Graham.

Then I looked back and saw what must have been a Ford or a Plymouth sedan approaching, with another car behind. The car pulled up and Billy Graham got out, and from the second car four or five guys in raincoats emerged.

It was the first time I had ever seen him in person. He looked extremely tall and imposing — it was like Moses had arrived! He seemed like such an untouchable human being.

He came over to Gloria and me and was so gracious and kind. He said, “Thank you so much for doing this.” We were moved that he cared that much.

Since then we’ve probably been involved in between twenty and twenty-five crusades over the years, including the last one Billy Graham did, in New York City. Over the years, we got to know him personally as well. He is one of the most humble, down-to-earth people I have ever been around.

We vacation sometimes in Asheville, North Carolina. We love the mountains and it’s a beautiful place. Billy Graham lives not far from there, and I remember the first time we went to see him. His house looks like a log cabin. It’s high on the mountain and has a beautiful view.

The first time we ever walked into his house it felt a lot like ours. We still live in the same house we did when we were both schoolteachers. It’s a country home. We walked in and this giant of a man greeted us at the door.

When we first visited him, he said something that I thought was very typical of his gentle, humble spirit. “Bill and Gloria,” he said, “I want to apologize for not spending more time than I’ve spent with you all across those years when we did those crusades.” We understood completely why he had not had more time available. Obviously he was very focused on what he had to do and couldn’t spend all his time socializing. You have to prioritize, and certain things have to take a back seat.

I remember one time as we left, Billy and Ruth were sitting out in their rocking chairs with their two dogs by them, waving goodbye to us. Gloria said, “Is that a picture?”

One of the last times we were there I called down to David, his scheduler, and asked if Billy would be up to seeing anyone that day. By this time he was about ninety years old. I was told to come on up, and I found Billy in the den, wearing a baseball cap. All around the den were pictures of his wife. I thought, It’s great to be a man who in his life has had such amazing public appeal, who lives to a great age, and is still in love with the lady he married.

We talked briefly about him growing up on a dairy farm. I had grown up on a dairy farm too. In those days, before the invention of electric milkers, you milked the cow by hand. “Did you ever have cats in the barn?” I asked him. “You did grow up on a farm, didn’t you?” he replied. He knew there were always cats in the barn. “Did you ever give them a drink?” I asked. “Oh, yes, straight from the source,” he said. We were laughing about growing up on the farm, milking cows, and then he would talk about the love of his life, Ruth, and how much he missed her.

I was very touched. I had seen him in his prime in Toronto, and seen pictures of him with kings and queens and world leaders, but it was quite another thing to see him in old age, sitting quietly in his study, surrounded by pictures of a person he loved very much. He said he was proud of Ruth, and that it was tough being without her, because she was the rock of the home. “I really miss her,” he would say. “I’m looking forward to seeing her again.”

One of the greatest things that can happen to a person who has a hero is later to meet that man, become close to him, and find out he is exactly as you thought he was, and even more. And that has been my experience with Billy Graham. This is a great man. This is what I call a Moses.

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