Wheaton magazine

Volume 21 // Special
Wheaton magazine // Billy Graham

Our Last Visit with Billy Graham

The last time I saw Billy Graham he was resting. Leaning back, his eyes were closed. My husband Michael and I sat down next to him as his assistant, who had become a dear friend over the years, announced that we were there.

I took note of this small room in the house that Billy and Ruth had built in the 1950s from salvaged log cabins.

Framed family photographs sat on the bookshelves nestled between books and Bibles. A large window looked out into a neat courtyard, with the forest rising behind. I wanted to memorize this place and these moments, because I knew that our friend—on earth for 98 years—would surely be going home sometime soon.

Could this be our last time together this side of heaven?

As Billy opened his eyes and looked at us as we leaned in, we saw a glimmer of recognition and greeted him. We relished the opportunity to express our love for him and his family and catch him up on our latest grandchildren.

I held back tears as I looked into the face of a man who had humbly lived a life of sacrifice in service to Jesus Christ. I held the hand that had held up the Bible many times in every sermon of every crusade, as he boldly and confidently proclaimed, “The Bible says…”

He was absolutely sure of the truth of the Word of God.

I silently prayed that I would share that same belief in the unshakable authority of the Word of God with the tenacity of this man of God.

A picture of Billy’s beloved Ruth caught my eye. It was taken on the front lawn, and she was flanked by some of her grandchildren whom she had pulled close. The Blue Ridge Mountains she loved so well framed them in greens and yellows. I felt an ache of longing to see her again, to hear her stories, and to giggle at her wit, which was one of her most charming features. How many times had I cherished moments with her, whether in person or by reading her books and poetry?

Her impact on my life had been timely and profound. Ruth’s story had many similarities to my own: Hectic years of raising our brood of five children with a husband often gone for stretches of time that seemed endless. A Wheaton graduate who wanted to marry a man dedicated to serving God, preferably in foreign missions. I found great solace and wisdom from Ruth’s indomitable courage and laughed at her creative antics in raising her five with a husband who traveled on the “Lord’s business.” Her dependence on prayer only solidified my commitment to do the same, and her faithfulness to train up her children in the Lord was my model. If she could do all that and survive, so could I!

When it was time to go, our last request was simply, “May we pray for you?” Billy nodded and smiled and Michael and I each held one of his hands and took turns blessing our friend. Then I let the tears fall, as I returned the favor he had so many times given to us: praying over us, releasing blessing and protection.

Although Michael would see him twice more before he was welcomed home to heaven, that was to be my last visit. We left with a deep sense of peace and a lasting impression of our friend Billy Graham: surrounded by love from family and friends and attended to by his loving, heavenly Father.

Debbie Davis Smith '80 pictured with her husband, Michael W. Smith (musician), and Billy Graham at Graham's 90th birthday.