My Experiences with The Rev. Billy Graham: I was 18 when a male coworker at the New Jersey Western Electric plant where I worked invited me on a date to a Rev. Billy Graham Crusade in New York City! It was huge, thousands of people packed into a gigantic auditorium. I think it may have been Madison Square Garden. (I lived just 17 miles from the George Washington Bridge but knew little about NYC.)
Rev. Graham inspired, moved his audience and radiated the Spirit. At the close he urged those who had not yet accepted Christ as their Savior to come down to the stage and do so. Strongly tempted, I did not since I was already a believer and church member – and, more importantly, feared being separated from my date, lost forever in the vast crowd and big city and never finding my way back to New Jersey!
Fast forward to Miami Beach, on my first newspaper job a few years later, I saw Rev. Graham again. This time it was close-up and personal. Don’t recall why he was in town, but I interviewed him for the Miami Beach Daily Sun. There he was, a larger-than-life presence, piercing blue eyes, that glorious voice, his passionate words all accompanied by the unmistakable aura of leadership. It seemed amazing that Graham, already famous, even included our small, 10,000 daily circulation paper in his itinerary.
We had to board the elevator to go up one-story. On deadline, as always, I was in a hurry. But he was reluctant to board the elevator until his two traveling companions arrived. I think they were parking the car or something. I urged him to accompany me upstairs. Someone would direct them when they did arrive, but he insisted on waiting. The two men with him appeared shortly, we caught the elevator, did the interview shot some photos. A novice reporter, I did the best I could. Responsive and friendly, he was a wonderful and eloquent interview!
It was nowhere near as awful as my later interview with Dolphin quarterback Bob Griese. The sports editor, who made the appointment to interview Griese, never showed up.
When I walked in, my editor said I had to interview Bob Griese immediately. “Who?” I asked, bewildered.
“He’s here,” the editor barked. “Waiting! Quick, go interview him now!”
A newcomer to Florida, the only football I’d ever seen were a few high school games back in Jersey. I feared and hated being totally unprepared, but my editor was insistent and Griese impatient.
I assumed the man had to be some sort of sports figure. He looked relatively healthy and in good shape. I guessed right. He said he played for the Dolphins.
My first question was “What position do you play?” It all went downhill from there. I prayed the sports editor would suddenly arrive and save the day. He didn’t.
Griese was polite but obviously annoyed. Who could blame him? He was somebody. I was nobody.
Floundering, I lamely asked what he and his teammates did in the off season. He calmly explained that they liked to swap wives. He kept a straight face. I almost wished it was true, but didn’t buy it. But he continued the conversation as though it was gospel. Did he actually hope it would be in the newspaper? Or, I still occasionally wonder if maybe… it was true?
But, I digress. Back to Rev. Graham. He was wonderful. The giant Miami Herald interviewed him as well and my story did not appear shabby by comparison. But the kicker is that when the Rev. Graham stepped away to speak to someone else, one of the men with him explained the elevator delay.
Rev. Graham, he said, had vowed never to meet, travel or dine with any woman other than his wife, and that included elevators. Made perfect sense to me.
During our interview he said he wanted to be remembered as “faithful” and something else that I’ve forgotten after all these years. But faithful always stuck with me; it covers so much in our lives.
And, the Reverend Graham was clearly ahead of his time. Our Vice President Michael Pence practices the same vow now. Can’t hurt.
The Rev. Billy Graham would have been 100 years old in November. He and his late wife Ruth were married for nearly 64 years. They were reunited forever in a far better place this morning. R.I.P. Rev. Billy Graham, gone too soon at age 99.
A Pulitzer prize winner, Edna Buchanan is a former crime reporter for The Miami Herald best known for her crime mystery novels.