Attentiveness: Remembering Jean (Graham) Ford - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: Remembering Jean (Graham) Ford


“Nancy, why don’t you and Scott just move here to Charlotte? You don’t want to be up there with all that cold weather. We would have so much fun together.” This lively and endearing sentiment captures both the mirth and hopefulness of Jean Graham Ford, who rose to glory last week.

Jean Ford was one of the most kind, soft-spoken, and deeply Christian people my wife, Nancy, and I have ever known. As Billy Graham’s sister, and wife and ministry partner of sixty-nine years to a traveling evangelist, artist, and mentor, Jean’s life was immersed in ministry. She and her husband Leighton were part of a friendship circle comprised of other great saints (such as Sam and Eileen Moffett and J Christy and Betty Wilson) whose callings, like theirs, were laden with much stress, often rejection, and taxing schedules. The difficulties these couples faced in their respective callings shaped them into humble Christians, deeply formed in the bond of Jesus Christ, and single-minded about the mission of God. Jean Ford embodied all these qualities.

I also remember Jeanie, as we called her, for her unique gifting and our extraordinary—if late-blooming friendship. By the time we became friends, she was becoming frail. Polio is remembered in the body, and it comes back where it first attacked. For Jeanie, it was her throat, so swallowing was a struggle to the end.

However, one of our greatest memories with Jeanie and Leighton was going out to eat. We always learned the wait staff’s names, asked about their family or career, and if they had a church. At times we prayed for them briefly and left a nice tip to help them out. It was all very natural, spiritual, and kind.

Our last time together, just a couple of weeks ago, both Jeanie and Leighton were recovering from illnesses. Jeanie was having a hard time walking, but she did get up to walk away when we started talking about seminary. I was surprised by her uncharacteristic lack of interest because she was always very keen on the goings on at Gordon-Conwell and had us on her daily rhythm of prayers. But this particular afternoon she found it annoying to talk about the seminary and I soon realized why. With the help of Leighton, she moved closer to the television because the UNC Tar Heels were playing a game, and she wanted to hear the sports announcer. This was another characteristic that Nancy and I loved about Jeanie: she was a real person who loved life in all its dimensions.

When I remember Jean (Graham) Ford these sentiments arise:



Joyful laughter with tears.

Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for the great examples of the saints who have gone before us. May we learn from their virtues and reflect on their sacrifices and suffering. May we anticipate their reflections of Christ to become more a part of us. Please, Lord, don’t let us worship these people, but let your image shine through as we remember them, and our times with them. And, Jesus, bless our brother Leighton at this time of emptiness; fill his emptiness with your fullness. We pray that Jesus would be glorified in the nations. Amen.

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.

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