Happy Birthday Daddy Bill

It was May 2, 1996 and I was sitting in the U.S. Capitol rotunda with my family. We were eagerly anticipating the ceremony that was getting ready to begin. I had been to Washington DC once before, back in 1985, when I was just 13 years old. This trip was different though. We were there because my grandparents were being honored on this day with the Congressional Gold Medal—the highest honor the Congress of the United States can bestow on a citizen. In fact, Senator Bob Dole, during a speech at the ceremony, said, “When the idea of awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to Billy and Ruth Graham was first raised, it received something rare in this building—unanimous approval.” Everybody laughed. At the time, it was only the 114th medal awarded, with George Washington being the first recipient.

There were hundreds who came that day to honor my grandparents, ranging from then Vice President Al Gore to Kathy Lee Gifford. Newt Gingrich, Senator Dole, and Vice President Gore publicly honored my grandparents by sharing how much my grandparents meant to each of them personally.

After the medal was presented, my granddad got up to speak. Before he could say a word, the crowd stood and applauded for a solid three minutes. Tears began streaming down my face. I was so proud of him and so thankful that God had given me such a tremendous heritage—one I had neither asked for nor deserved. Here was a man who was being publicly honored for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to more people than anyone in history; a man who was being recognized for his love for God and love for others—and I had the privilege of calling him “Daddy Bill.” As we all stood and clapped, I prayed: “Lord, no matter what it is that you call me to do, I want to do it with the God-centered focus, passion, and humility that have characterized the life and ministry of my grandfather.”

It was no surprise that he presented the Gospel that day. He spoke boldly of sin, the cross, and the great need for repentance. He spoke about the brevity of life and the fleeting pleasures of this world. He looked into the eyes of the many high ranking political leaders who were there that day and challenged them to contemplate death and the life after. He was so bold, so unashamed of the Gospel—yet so winsome. To this day, I’m not sure I have ever heard the truth spoken in love more effectively. I had heard him preach a thousand times, but this time was particularly moving. I’ll never forget that day.

Today “Daddy Bill” turns 94.

Born November 7, 1918 on a dairy farm outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, “Daddy Bill” (who lived the majority of his life on the world stage) rarely leaves home now. His mind is still sharp but his body is weak and frail. He says that getting old has been hard. His wife of over 60 years (my grandmother “TaiTai”) died 5 1/2 years ago. Most of his friends have died. He still sees a world in dire need but is now relegated to the sidelines–cheering his brothers and sisters on, but wishing he could still be in the game. He told me recently that he thinks he’ll live another year or two. I hope it’s longer.

Not long ago, I wrote a few things down that I’ve always admired about my granddad. Since it’s his birthday, I thought I’d share them with you.

1. His Humility: Daddy Bill has always been keenly aware that God is God and he is not. He’s always been conscious of his smallness and God’s bigness, his imperfection and God’s perfection. I was telling someone the other day that it wasn’t until I got older that I began to realize my grandfather was a pretty important person. This is mainly due to the fact that he never, ever, projected himself to be any more or less important than anyone else. I have never seen him think more highly of himself than he ought.

2. His love for the Gospel: Daddy Bill has always had a deep sense of his own sin which has led him to a deep love for his Savior. He’s always exemplified the sweet reality that you can never know Christ as a Great Savior until you first know yourself to be a great sinner. God’s amazing grace still amazes him—and that amazes me!

3. His Faithfulness: Although he had the opportunity to do many things (have his own TV show, become President of various colleges and seminaries, star in movies, and yes, even run for President of the United states) he never wavered concerning God’s call on his life to be an Evangelist. He knows he’s not a scholar or a theologian and he’s never tried to be. He’s always remained true to God’s calling on his life. And he has fulfilled that calling without ever being guilty of any sexual, financial, or other moral scandal.

4. I have never seen him show favoritism: I have been with Daddy Bill in numerous places at numerous times with numerous people and I have never, ever seen him show favoritism. He treats all people the same, whether they’re rich or poor, weak or powerful, socially significant or socially insignificant. Because of his belief that all people are made in God’s image, he has rightfully concluded that there are no little people.

5. His humanness: Daddy Bill is normal! He gets mad; he gets sad; he’s fun to be around. His favorite restaurant is Morrison’s Cafeteria. His favorite movie is Crocodile Dundee. His favorite drink is orange juice and he loves catfish. He’s just another man with all of the limitations and idiosyncrasies that the rest of us have—and I love him for it!

Daddy Bill, you have been one of my closest friends and most reliable counselors all my life. I want to be just like you when I grow up.

Happy Birthday! I love you.