Much has been said about Billy Graham in the last week. His life spanned almost a century, but his legacy will remain as long as life on this planet endures.
Wayne Atcheson is the Billy Graham Library director in Charlotte. He also serves as the library historian for Billy Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He has given almost 1,000 tours to special guests to the library, which is one of the top ten religious attractions in America. TripAdvisor.com lists the library number 1 in things to do and see in Charlotte.
Prior to his role at the Billy Graham Library, Atcheson was the sports information director for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide for 20 years. His career is marked by distinction and excellence.
Atcheson has been close to the events surrounding Billy Graham’s death and funeral preparations. Consequently, he has made some up close and personal observations that are worth sharing with our readers.
Atcheson noted, “The news of Mr. Graham’s passing on to glory came as quite a surprise, but at the same time, not a surprise. David Bruce, his chief companion and administrator of personal affairs for over 30 years, stated that Mr. Graham died peacefully, without any suffering. No children were present and the nurses were changing shifts. His doctor said he just wore out.
“He has always had 24-hour nursing care at home since Ruth (his wife) passed away 11 years ago on June 14. The time of his departure was 7:46 a.m. on Wednesday, February 21. I always prayed that he would live to be 100, but God was ready for him.
“We have imagined what that must have been like when Billy Graham stepped into Heaven, saw Jesus and Ruth, his parents, a brother and sister, and a host of people there because of his preaching around the world.”
Ann Graham Lotz, the third of five Graham children, summed her dad’s death up by simply saying, “Daddy’s home.”
Atcheson explained, “We were having staff devotions in the ministry’s dining room with some 250 gathered. We had just heard a report of our Rapid Response chaplain deployments to Parkland, FL (where 17 students were killed) and two other recent crisis areas. Our chaplains have responded to six crises since January 1 and all have been tragic shootings.
“We then paired off as usual to pray and were interrupted with the sad, but glorious, announcement that our leader, Mr. Graham, was in glory. I must admit after talking to people about his life and ministry for 12 years, that I was deeply saddened. I was trying to catch my breath it seemed all day long.
“Just two weeks ago, I was in extensive meetings about the 10-day funeral plan for Mr. Graham. Meetings have escalated among staff for the past two years. When I came here, I participated in meetings for Mr. Graham’s funeral. Several on the funeral program have died and been replaced. Pallbearers have died and been replaced. A plan for his funeral has been in place for close to 25 years.
“Media coverage has been overwhelming. Our library parking lot was filled with satellite trucks by 6 p.m. on Monday. Rush Limbaugh said yesterday that he had never met Mr. Graham but he used Mr. Graham’s touching quote: ‘When you hear the news that Billy Graham is dead, don’t think that for one moment, for I will only have changed my address and will be more alive than ever before – in Glory with Jesus.’
“Many have commented that they had never heard the word ‘Jesus’ mentioned on secular television as much as yesterday. Many video clips have highlighted Mr. Graham preaching the Gospel message of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, receiving him as Lord and Savior, and being with him in Heaven forever.
“Even by noon yesterday here at the library, we had four adults shedding tears, praying, and asking Christ into their lives. One or two who knew very little about Billy Graham came in and went straight to the Prayer Room seeking peace and thought they could find it here.”
Since yesterday, Feb. 28, Billy Graham has lie in state in the rotunda of the United State Capitol in Washington. Atcheson commented, “Only 31 individuals, including eleven presidents, have had this honor since 1852. Mr. Graham is only the fourth private citizen for this distinction. Others to lie in honor were Abraham Lincoln, Douglas MacArthur, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. What a great witness this is for the Christian faith. We were always anticipating an invitation, but it has to come after a person passes away first.
“Also, three years ago, the North Carolina state legislature passed a document that Billy Graham will replace one of the two North Carolina citizens in the Rotunda area. Each state has two elite citizens to represent their state in statue form. This can only take place after a person dies, so now Billy Graham will be displayed representing North Carolina. What a great Christian witness for thousands who visit the nation’s capitol!”
Atcheson concluded by explaining, “Just this week, I was giving our library volunteers a Power Point presentation and DVD of Mr. Graham and his relationship with 13 presidents. He was a friend to people in high places around the world. However, he paid just as much attention to the cab driver, the stagehand, the hotel clerk, and the parking lot attendant as he did the rich and famous. He was very modest, wasn’t impressed as being famous, didn’t really understand just how great and influential he was.
“He never forgot that he was a dairy farm boy from North Carolina whose one purpose was preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and seeing people saved for eternity in Heaven. He prayed without ceasing, literally, and fed himself on the Word of God throughout the day.
“He and Ruth had a lifelong love affair marriage for 63 years. I read recently that God exalts those to the highest who have the greatest humility and that was why most of us think he was so special and used so mightily. It was his humility. He was a precious man.”