However, we may have to rethink this Fifth of the famous Ten Commandments.
Billy Graham would have turned 100 years old today. North Carolina’s most famous favorite son did not quite make it to centenarian honors, as he passed Feb. 22 from a number of ailments complicated by old age.
Graham’s long-time partner in Christian ministry, singer George Beverly Shea, lived to 104. I wrote on this page in 2013 about my brief encounter with Shea, and pleasant only begins to describe the man. Graham’s other long-time colleague, choir leader Cliff Barrows, lived to 93.
A globe-trotting evangelist, Graham never pretended to be heavenly holy. He did not get saved, did not dedicate his life to Christ, until he was 16 at a old-style tent revival in his native Charlotte.
But Graham’s story includes a good start in life as an obedient, hard-working son who got up in the middle of each and every night to milk dairy cows with his father and who memorized Bible verses set out at the kitchen table by his mother.
My favorite is Shea. During a rain delay during a Graham crusade service in Charlotte in 1996, I stood watching the rain in the visitors tunnel at the big football stadium. I heard the voice of God behind me, I turned and there at my shoulder stood Shea, perhaps restless because of the delay and who had taken to wandering around.
Sure I was stunned, but Shea set me at ease quickly by chatting pleasantly about fishing in his native Ontario, his fishing boat and how wonderful it all was. What a pleasant and winsome fellow.
Son of a Wesleyan Methodist minister, Shea said he became a Christian when very young, he once told Decision Magazine, a Billy Graham Evangelistic Association publication, but “there were times when I needed to rededicate my life.” At 18 Shea did so during a Friday night service after Shea’s father descended from the pulpit and talked to him.
Graham was guarded around the press, folks like me, and smartly so. Shea, out of the spotlight most times, had no such qualms with me. Wish I had asked to go with him fishing some time. Bet he would’ve issued an open invitation. I would’ve gone.
As the rain abated, Shea left me feeling good about things.
It’s impossible to say how things would have gone if Graham had not had Shea and Barrows with him for so long. Maybe God would have sent Graham other capable colleagues. But my bet is that Graham without Shea and Barrows would have been just a shadow of what he became.
For The Tribune