72: Kyra Phillips

72: Kyra Phillips

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 72 •
KYRA PHILLIPS

CNN’s HLN News anchor and winner of two Edward R. Murrow Awards

It was 2005 and Billy Graham was about to launch his final crusade in New York. Because this man has had such an amazing influence in America and in the world, my producer and I approached CNN about doing an hour-long special on his life. “This is a huge deal,” we explained. “We’ll look at his politics, his faith, his background, and his relationship with his family. He is such a pillar, it will be powerful!” CNN said, “It’s a go!”

My producer and I worked on the Billy Graham special for months. She made the arrangements and I interviewed his family and his friends. Two of his closest friends in the ministry, Cliff Barrows and Bev Shea, have known him for more than sixty years. Cliff directed the choir and Bev was a standout soloist during Reverend Graham’s crusades. Their stories about him revealed fabulous insights into the man. Moreover, we traveled around the country, got to know his hometown and his farm. It was an extraordinary journey. My producer and I both grew up in Christian environments, and the values we possess led to the strong respect we have for Reverend Graham.

Weeks and weeks went by, and it was now just a few days before the last crusade. I was in New York with my producer. Both of us agreed it would be a remarkable opportunity if we were granted a final interview with Reverend Graham. The people who represented him told us he was not feeling well and, more than likely, would not be able to speak with us. I told the representative I understood but assured him that I would be quick and as unobtrusive as possible.

A day or two before the crusade my producer woke me with an early morning phone call. She couldn’t contain her shock and dismay. “You are not going to believe this!” she screamed into the phone. “Reverend Graham’s people granted an interview to one of our co-workers!” As you can imagine, I jumped out of bed, completely blown away. “What are you talking about? We’ve been working on this special, we’ve been interviewing the entire family, we’ve gone to his hometown, and we’ve been tracing his roots! What do you mean a co-worker got the interview?” I got off the phone with my producer and immediately called Billy Graham’s representative. “What is going on?” I bellowed (as respectfully as possible). “We’ve been working on this special and you know how important this is to us. We assumed if Billy Graham was well enough to talk, he’d talk to us.” I didn’t hold back. I really let him know how disappointed I was and how hurt I was. To be quite honest, I was devastated. I hung up the phone, upset and frustrated. About half an hour later, I got a call from the representative. This time he said, “You’ve got forty-five minutes to get to the hotel in New York City. You have the final interview with him.”

Immediately, I went into action — jumping in the shower, throwing stuff together, calling my producer, and at the same time jotting down every essential question about America’s pastor that I, and our viewers, wanted answered. I wanted to ask him about his amazing marriage to Ruth, about his discipline, about forgiveness, and about praying with our Presidents.

In less than half an hour I leaped into my car and headed to Reverend Graham’s hotel. I called my producer en route and with mixed emotions I blurted, “I can’t believe it’s going down this way! I just want to make sure I get everything right.” Then I started sobbing. I was excited and wanted the interview to be a home run. I was also feeling betrayed. All these emotions were going through my head. I said to my producer, “I’ve got to calm down. I’ve got to get it together. I need you to do me a big favor and pray with me right now.” She said, “Okay, here we go.” After leading us in prayer, I gratefully said, “Thank you!” In tears she said, “You bet.”

I arrived at the hotel with so much on my heart. With my notebook in hand and lugging my suitcase behind me, I tried to find Reverend Graham. Finally, I located the conference room and knocked on the door. It opened to reveal Reverend Graham in the middle of a room that was beautifully lit. He was in a big chair with his hands on his knees looking calm and peaceful. He looked over at me and smiled.

I took a breath and said, “Hello everyone. It’s nice to meet you.” I introduced myself and got my notebook. I said, “Reverend Graham, it’s great to meet you.” He said, “It’s very nice to meet you.” I shook his hand, sat down, nearly overwrought with anxiety. My mind was spinning. I only had ten minutes for the interview, and it could be the last interview he was ever going to give. Suddenly it dawned on me — I was sitting there with the Reverend Billy Graham, the most powerful man of prayer in our country and, ironically, my journey to get to that point had left me completely stressed out. I decided to ask him to pray with me. I looked at the camera crew and asked, “Guys, could you do me a favor and shut the cameras off for a minute?” They powered everything down. I made sure the red lights were off.

I looked at this legendary man of unwavering faith and said, “Reverend Graham, I’m a little overwhelmed right now. It took so much to get here. I didn’t think you would grant me this interview. I was told it wasn’t going to happen. Then, I was told it was on. I’m not quite sure which way is up and which way is down at the moment. Could we just pray?” He looked at me like a caring father. This man, who over six decades counseled presidents and gave millions of Americans hope for a better life through faith, smiled at me and simply said, “Well, of course.” Then he held my hand and we bowed our heads. We prayed for a few minutes, then opened our eyes. I sat back. I felt so at peace, so calm, and so relaxed. I never once looked down at my notes. We had an amazing conversation, one of the most memorable and beautiful moments I have had in my career.

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