78: Catherine B. Reynolds

78: Catherine B. Reynolds

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 78 •
CATHERINE B. REYNOLDS

Business leader and philanthropist, chairman and CEO, The Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation

As a young girl, I watched the Billy Graham Crusades on television with my father, who was an enthusiastic follower of Billy and his message of salvation through Jesus Christ. As a result, I had a strong love for Billy long before I actually met him. Our first meeting was arranged many years ago by Mike Deaver, an advisor to President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan. Mike was close to Billy, and credited Billy with helping him through his darkest hours with alcoholism. Mike knew how much I admired the reverend.

On the appointed day, Mike, my husband Wayne and I flew down to have lunch with Billy. I was so excited to meet Billy; you feel like you have known him forever. He has the ability to make you feel as if you are the only person in the room when he talks with you.

That lunch was the beginning of a long and rich friendship that has evolved and flourished over the years. Wayne and I attended crusades, visited him when he came to Washington, D.C., and connected with him in many other settings, cultivating a friendship that has been one of my life’s greatest blessings.

In 2005, during George W. Bush’s presidency, Billy called to say he was in town, and invited Wayne and me to visit him in his suite at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. This was at the time when Billy was becoming physically frail. When our lovely visit ended, Wayne and I started to leave and we all hugged each other. He told us that he loved us, and I responded, “Now, Billy, you take care of yourself.” He looked at me, and said, “You know, I’m not going to be around much longer.” I was speechless. Then I hugged him and insisted that this was not so, and we would see him again soon. “Well, I just hope the Lord has His arms wide open at the gates of heaven,” he replied. My husband reacted quickly to Billy’s words, “If you’re worried, how do you think I feel?” It never dawned on Billy that if the gates of heaven would be wide open for anyone, it would clearly be him. This underscores his deep humility.

Billy is a blessing to someone every day. The fact that he continues to strive to become more Christ-like, godly and righteous in his thoughts and actions is a lesson for all of us who struggle with our own human nature. The number of people that Billy has touched is extraordinary. He transcends political parties, geography, gender and culture. Sixty years later, his crusades continue to play on TV. He was one of the first to use television as a medium to bring the Word and introduce vast numbers to Christianity.

As someone who tries to make a difference through philanthropy, I have known any number of special individuals, but no one quite like Billy. He is a unique human being, with a special ability to reach people. His influence is felt not only when you meet him in person, but also when you see him on television, hear him on the radio, or when you read his books. It’s probably due at least in part to his authenticity and consistency. He is who he is. He is the same today as he was yesterday and I’m sure will be tomorrow.

Billy is a true trailblazer as well — he achieved and set the standard for what today we refer to as television evangelists. He achieved many things that were not easy. In many ways, he is a social entrepreneur, creating crusades around the world and using the medium of television to reach millions of people. His God-given talents gave him both the vision and ability to build a global mission. At the same time, he continues to live a personal life that people genuinely admire, which increases the effectiveness of his message exponentially.

I was brought up Catholic and attended Catholic school, but I found Billy’s way of preaching and delivering the Word much more powerful and meaningful than what I experienced growing up. Billy has also greatly influenced my husband, who is Jewish, and has a friendship and relationship with Billy that is as strong as mine. This reflects who Billy is at heart. He genuinely loves and embraces everyone. Most people tend to gravitate to others who are like them. Generally speaking, it is difficult to connect and appreciate others who are different from you. It is hard either for lack of understanding or lack of interest. It is close to impossible to influence dissimilar people in a positive way. However, whether consciously or not, these are the folks Billy touches. It is a natural outgrowth of his unconditional love for people.

Billy Graham’s footprint in the lives of countless individuals across the world is enormous. It cannot be overstated. I doubt that anyone can step into his shoes. He has been a gift in my life and countless others.

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