Billy Graham — 1918-2018

Billy, Bobby and the Gospel: Legendary Yankees 2nd baseman from Sumter remembers his friend, famous evangelist

BY KAYLA ROBINS
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 2/21/18

Bobby Richardson recently visited Billy Graham for the last time with his wife and granddaughter. Graham could barely see. He could not hear well, but the friend of the Sumterite and former New York …

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Billy Graham — 1918-2018

Billy, Bobby and the Gospel: Legendary Yankees 2nd baseman from Sumter remembers his friend, famous evangelist

Posted

Bobby Richardson recently visited Billy Graham for the last time with his wife and granddaughter. Graham could barely see. He could not hear well, but the friend of the Sumterite and former New York Yankees second baseman, the man who became the most widely heard Christian evangelist in history, put his arms around the Richardsons and prayed with them.

"And what an honor to have a prayer with Billy Graham," said Richardson, who himself is a heavily sought-after religious speaker who built a decades-long friendship with Graham. Graham died at his home in North Carolina on Wednesday, Feb. 21. He was 99.

Richardson said Graham, who long suffered from cancer, pneumonia and other ailments, was a humble man, true and sincere.

A man who transformed American religious life through his preaching and activism. A man who counseled presidents. A man who, by his final crusade in 2005 in New York City, preached in person to more than 210 million people in 185 countries.

A man who yet, through all the massive audiences, seemed to speak to each person. To connect them to Christ as close to the heart as when he committed himself at a local tent revival at the age of 16.

"I did not feel any special emotion," Graham wrote in his 1997 autobiography, "Just As I Am." "I simply felt at peace," and thereafter, "the world looked different."

He reached untold millions through his pioneering use of prime-time telecasts, network radio, daily newspaper columns, evangelistic feature films and globe-girdling satellite TV hookups.

"The Bible says," was his catchphrase. His unquestioning belief in Scripture turned the Gospel into a "rapier" in his hands, he said.

Richardson said he has spoken at five of Graham's crusades — one at Madison Square Garden in New York City; one at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, which was attended by President Lyndon B. Johnson; one in Hawaii that aired on national TV; and two in Japan.

"I've known him as a man who just truly presented the Gospel so clearly to so many people," he said. "We'll certainly miss him. It was an honor to be his friend."

After William Randolph Hearst and other media publicized his Los Angeles crusade in 1949, Graham was propelled into the international evangelism spotlight, reaching more than 2 million people during a 12-week London campaign in 1954 and more than 2 million at a 16-week rally at Madison Square Garden, the largest evangelistic venture at that time.

He was honored with the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1982, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983, the Congressional Gold Medal in 1996 and an honorary British knighthood in 2001.

"One of the greatest messengers of Christ has gone to his heavenly reward," U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement. "Dr. Graham spread the good news to millions across the world and led a life beyond reproach."

Bobby Richardson's wife, Betsy, said Graham's wife, Ruth, was her Sunday school teacher for a couple years in Asheville, North Carolina. Ruth died in 2007.

"So many people are affected by him, but Billy was a dear man, a humble man, and now he's in the presence of his savior that he so greatly proclaimed to for years," Betsy Richardson said. "He has just made an impact for eternity.

"It will be a great loss in many ways, but as Billy used to say, it's an appointment for all of us."

Graham will be buried with his wife at the Billy Graham Museum and Library in his hometown of Charlotte.

"They were a wonderful couple," Betsy Richardson said. "They're together again, too."

The Associated Press and Retired AP Religion Writer Richard N. Ostling contributed to this report.