The Common Good

Celebrities recall brushes with Graham in’Billy & Me’

Date: February 12, 2013

Sojourners Founder Jim Wallis, recalling Graham admitting to being nervous in addressing Harvard students in 1999.

Billy said, “Jim, I’m really nervous tonight.”

“Why in the world would you be nervous?” I replied.

“I feel very weak physically, and am not sure if I will be effective answering questions from these Harvard students.”

At that moment, I had such a feeling of great warmth for him. “Billy, they slept overnight on the sidewalk to hear you preach,” I said. “The room is full. They’re not here to eat your lunch. They’re here because they want to tell their grandchildren they were in the same room as Billy Graham.”

His vulnerability, his humanity, was so much in evidence in that moment, and I had the chance to do what many of us have known with our aging parents — to give something back to them. I said, “I’ll be sitting right in the front row, and I’ll be praying for you the whole time. So if you get nervous, just look down and you’ll see me there praying for you. They’re here to hear from you. Just speak from your heart, from your soul, and they’re gonna love it.”

He gave me a hug and he went up to the podium, and a couple of times as he was speaking he looked down at me, and I put my head down and prayed for him.

Of course, despite his doubts, Billy gave an incredibly brilliant, statesmanlike talk about faith and public life.