America’s pastor died Feb. 21, leaving behind millions of mourners nationwide, some of whom were introduced to Christianity and the Bible thanks to the late Rev. Billy Graham.

According to Graham’s official obituary, he died Feb. 21 at his home in North Carolina at 7:46 a.m Eastern time. Graham preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to some 215 million people who attended one of his more than 400 crusades, simulcasts and evangelistic rallies in more than 185 countries and territories, the obituary stated. He reached millions more through TV, video, film, the internet and 34 books.

Locals reacted to the great evangelist’s passing in an article that I wrote for the Reporter-News. I met Graham in 1974 when two other reporters and I covered Graham and his entourage when they visited West Texas Ranch for Christ in Nolan County to participate in “Grady Wilson Day.” Wilson was a longtime associate of Graham.

Another Abilenian attending that day was the Rev. T.C. Melton, a retired Baptist minister who now is a consultant for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. T.C. and I didn’t know each other then but have become friends in recent years. My own recollection of the day was being in awe of Billy Graham. He was the most charming, charismatic person I had met at the time. I could see why he was such a powerful communicator that people responded to.

Following is the recollections of T.C. Melton:

My acquaintance with Billy Graham was more “group” than personal. Because our church had partnered with Billy Hanks, Jr. and the West Texas Ranch For Christ in doing some discipleship work with students from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, we were invited to the ranch to meet Dr. Graham during his  1974 visit there.  For the few hours we were there, I think all of our folk reached the same conclusion about this great evangelist. He treated common West Texas folk with the same dignity and graciousness that he extended to presidents and kings.

No one felt uncomfortable or intimidated by being in his presence. He had a very humble and gentle spirit. I became a Christian in 1951, about one year after he and, singer Cliff Barrows, started the radio broadcast, The Hour of Decision. His messages then were like those at the end of his ministry–a simple, clear presentation of the Gospel of Christ. I have read most of his books. And, like his messages, I always felt that he was not so much “in love” with preaching as he was with the people he tried to reach with his message. We most often picture him as preaching to stadiums filled with people, but, we know from the testimony of countless well-known people, that he was, also, a personal soul-winner.  

A few years after we met Dr. Graham at the West Texas Ranch For Christ, we invited Grady Wilson, his life-long friend and partner in ministry, and two other members of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association to come to our church for a revival crusade.  Just four or five days prior to the start of this. Grady suffered a heart attack. The other two members were with us for a week. I felt everything about the humble and sincere way they  conducted themselves while with us was an extension of Billy Graham and his entire Evangelistic Association, demonstrating a great love for people and a firm belief  in the power of the gospel of Christ to give people a new birth and a new start in life. 

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