Memories of Billy Graham: A reporter's notebook

Memories of Billy Graham: A reporter's notebook

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Early impressions of Reverend Billy Graham and his impact on the Queen City came for me on a spring day in April during 1984, on the first visit to Charlotte during my job interview at WBTV.

Exiting Charlotte Douglas airport, the first street sign that caught my eye was a green and white lettered banner that read Billy Graham Parkway.

Moving to and learning about a new community means absorbing facts and consuming its storied folklore, and comprehending the legacy and tapestry of this renown televangelist requires interpreting a narrative that runs wide and deep.

His footprint was felt at what used to be Heritage USA, because among the many attractions in the heyday of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker was Billy Graham's boyhood home.

Whenever Billy Graham came to town, it was always a big deal.

He was in the paper and on television.

Graham often spoke affectionately about his relationship with WBT Radio and WBTV and its legendary general manager Charles Crutchfield.

The minister always took pride in his Charlotte roots and Charlotte constantly took pride in Billy Graham.

It was a well-defined two-way street.

Perhaps one the best and most memorable assignments that I had at WBTV came during 1996, when covering his crusade at what was then called Ericsson Stadium.

As much as it was a nightly prayer service, the event turned into a learning experience.

Signature moments came from the men who were close to Graham carried out their roles on stage.

Individuals such as Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea who were crowd favorites, but Graham's ministry was inclusive enough to bring into the fold contemporary musicians like Charlie Daniels.

Answering the altar call on the first night were Jerry and Mark Richardson who owned the Carolina Panthers.

When the library that bears his name was officially opened several years ago, the afternoon delivered a series of moments.

Sitting in the crowd that day one could only feel inspired.

Perhaps it was the singing and playing of Ricky Skaggs or the words and presence of four former U.S. Presidents all on the same stage.

The words from the minister that sticks with me are what he said in describing the library…"too much Billy Graham."

Those of us in the news business knew this day would come.

My organization had a prepared obituary already prepared detailing the life and times of Billy Graham.

For the last few days, it's been all Billy all the time.

However, preparing does not lessen the blow and the impact of this tremendous loss.

Preparing doesn't make it easier in facing and interviewing his grieving family members.

Preparing doesn't reduce the shock of standing feet away from a shiny black Cadillac hearse and seeing a simple pine coffin being carried by his grandsons and husbands of his granddaughters.

Preparing doesn't soften the somberness of standing near the steps of the U.S. Capitol and standing in rain and watching his coffin carried by a military honor guard, as members of the North Carolina congressional delegation present Graham's family with an American flag.

From his big stadium crusades to old time tent revivals, much of his time was spent delivering scriptures and sermons, but one strong example carried out by Billy Graham is the lessons of preparation.

Based on his life, Billy Graham was prepared to meet his God.

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