In Memoriam: Billy Graham

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Evangelist, Founder and Friend

Co-founder, trustee emeritus, world-renowned evangelist and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ Rev. William (Billy) Franklin Graham, Jr. passed away in Montreat, NC today at the age of 99.

Born November 7, 1918, in Charlotte, NC, he came to faith in Christ in 1934 during a revival meeting led by evangelist Mordecai Fowler Ham. In 1940, he graduated from the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College). In 1943, he earned a Bachelor of Arts from Wheaton College in Wheaton, IL, and married his wife, Ruth.

Over the next several years, Graham held a pastorate, launched a radio program and started a traveling ministry that expanded rapidly. By 1949, he had gained worldwide fame for his evangelistic rallies. Out of his ministry came the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and a popular radio and television program, “Hour of Decision.” Both, along with dozens of books authored by Graham, have also been instrumental in reaching millions of people for Jesus Christ.

In 1969, Graham—along with philanthropist J. Howard Pew and renowned pastor of Boston’s Park Street Church Dr. Harold John Ockenga—initiated and oversaw the merging of Conwell School of Theology and Gordon Divinity School into Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Graham was instrumental in securing the initial funding and acquiring the beautiful 118 acre South Hamilton, MA campus, previously a Catholic Carmelite seminary, for the new evangelical seminary. Despite his vast accomplishments, Graham was careful to give glory to God, commenting, “Only God could have brought this together.”

Graham, who actively supported the school for many years, established the standard for what Gordon-Conwell would become: “one of the most significant and influential theological seminaries in North America, combining excellence in biblical and theological education with spiritual depth and practical preparation for ministry” dedicated to the essentials of the faith—belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ; the inerrancy of Scripture; the atoning death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus; the mandate of Jesus to make disciples of all nations; and Jesus’ personal, visible return to earth at the end of time.

“Billy Graham was not only a great preacher; he lived the message he proclaimed” states Gordon-Conwell President Dennis Hollinger. “Graham’s character and wisdom mirrored the Gospel he loved to preach.  That’s why he has been such a treasured part of the Gordon-Conwell family.”

Though busy with over 400 campaigns reaching numerous states and over 50 countries, Graham made time for Gordon-Conwell. He spoke on several occasions, including the seminary’s inauguration, Founder’s Day centennial celebration, Academic Center dedication and commencement. He also served on the Board of Trustees until October 2011, holding the position of chairman from 1989–1993 and the position of trustee emeritus from then on. In addition, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association provided financial support for the seminary for many years. Because of his outstanding service and personal witness to Jesus Christ, Graham was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Sacred Theology by Gordon-Conwell in 1974.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees, John Huffman shared these thoughts. “Dr. Graham was one of my most respected and valued friends and mentors from my childhood until now. I was privileged to learn from him and work with him in many ministries including being part of his original dreams for a new great seminary. Without his vision combined with that of Dr. Harold Ockenga there would be no Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. His personal integrity and whole souled commitment to Jesus Christ will forever stand as a great inspiration and example to us all.”

"It is difficult to imagine a world without Billy Graham," relates long-time Gordon-Conwell professor Dr. Garth Rosell. "For the better part of a century, his has been the voice that everyone recognized; his has been the character that everyone admired; and his has been the message that gave hope to thousands around the globe. He walked among kings and presidents but he never lost the common touch. He preached to millions but he never lost his own sense of humility. He enjoyed access to the rich and powerful, but lived modestly in his rustic Black Mountain home."

Graham is preceded in death by his beloved wife, Ruth Bell Graham, with whom he shared nearly 64 years of marriage. He is survived by three daughters, two sons, 19 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.

Billy Graham leaves behind a legacy of distinguished Christian service, faithfulness to Scripture and strong personal witness, and will continue to serve as an inspiration to many for years to come. Part of this legacy are the more than 10,000 Gordon-Conwell graduates who follow in his footsteps serving as ministers of the Gospel all over the world.


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