Remembering Rev. Billy Graham

After the passing of Rev. Billy Graham in late February, the Baylor Family paused to recall his trips to campus and reflect on the life of such a faithful servant.

Graham preached the Gospel to nearly 215 million people in live audiences across more than 185 countries and territories. More than 3.2 million people responded to the invitation to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior.

The evangelist traveled to Baylor and Waco on numerous occasions, including speaking in a Chapel service in 1950 and at a memorial service for victims of the May 1953 tornado that devastated downtown Waco.

“We are deeply grieved to learn that the Rev. Billy Graham has passed away, yet we rejoice that he has been called home as a good and faithful servant of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” Baylor President Linda A. Livingstone, PhD, said in a statement offering condolences to the Graham family.

“In 1970, Billy Graham visited the Baylor campus and described the distinctive role that Baylor plays in Christian higher education. He spoke of the University’s commitment to faith and learning and to helping our students understand their responsibility to be the hands and feet of Christ and serve others throughout the world, a commitment to which Baylor remains faithful…. Our deepest prayers are with the Graham family, and we join millions around the world in giving thanks for Billy Graham, for his unyielding faith in a risen Savior and his mission to bring Christ’s light to the world.”

A renowned author and one of the Gallup Organization’s “Ten Most Admired Men in the World” an unprecedented 55 times, Graham counseled American presidents and consoled the nation in times of crisis. 

Graham was presented with an honorary doctorate from Baylor in 1954, and he was one of 12 individuals named as the most effective preachers in the English-speaking world in 1996, following a worldwide survey conducted by Baylor.

Although he did not attend the University, the Graham family has strong Baylor ties. His daughter Anne Graham Lotz served as a Baylor Regent from 2005 to 2008. Three of his grandchildren earned Baylor degrees: Jonathan Lotz, BA ’94, Morrow Lotz Reitmeier, BSEd ’96, and Rachel-Ruth Lotz Wright, BSEd ’97.

In early September 2012, a contingent of University representatives visited Graham in his log cabin home in the mountains near Montreat, North Carolina, where he was presented with Baylor’s Pro Ecclesia Medal of Service. The award honors individuals whose contributions to Christian ministry have made an immeasurable impact on our world. [Read the Fall 2012 Baylor Magazine feature on Graham as the award recipient at] The Baylor representatives were welcomed by four of Graham’s children— Franklin, Ruth, Gigi and Anne—and by his granddaughter Morrow. Graham’s wife Ruth passed away in 2007. 

A Nov. 6-7, 2018, conference by Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion will focus on Graham’s impact globally and on American Evangelicalism. The conference will feature plenary addresses by Grant Wacker, author of America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation; Anne Blue Wills, author of a forthcoming Ruth Graham biography; and Ed Stetzer, The Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College. Graham would have celebrated his 100th birthday Nov. 7.

Compiled by Randy Fiedler, director of marketing and communications in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences, the following summarizes a few of Graham’s visits to this community. Photo courtesy of The Texas Collection.

Jan. 10, 1951

Graham, then 32, first visited Baylor to speak during Chapel in Waco Hall, where he used John 13:13 as his text: “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.” [KJV] Later that day, he spoke at First Baptist Church Waco with his message broadcast live over WACO Radio. Brought to Texas by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, he was on a statewide drive to win 250,000 new converts during 1951.

Quotes from his Waco Hall address:

“Without divine intervention, we cannot preserve our way of life, our homes and our future.

“A general awakening is occurring on college and university campuses throughout the country. College students are hungry for God.”

Nov. 6, 1954

Graham came to campus as part of the University’s second Conference on American Ideals. He spoke in Waco Hall to an overflow crowd and delivered “Christianity’s Contribution to American Civilization” as his address. 

“I have great admiration for this institution. It has been constantly in my prayers, and it has been my privilege in the past few years to recommend students to this institution,” Graham said. “We need an institution like Baylor University that trains young men intellectually but does not forget the spiritual, development of a soul. And Baylor more than any institution I know in the United States has taken knowledge and the intellectual in one hand and the spiritual in the other, and is developing Christian leadership in America unparalleled at the present moment.”

Nov. 14, 1962

As one of the featured speakers during the University’s World Emphasis Week, he spoke to a packed Rena Marrs McLean Gymnasium. Baylor classes were dismissed that morning to give students a chance to hear Graham speak, but only 4,000 students could be admitted into the building. However, KWTX-TV and local radio carried Graham’s address live.

Graham told students that mankind had obtained the weapons to destroy itself. “Unless we find a solution, you won’t live a normal life. The explosion will take place in your generation,” he said.

Feb. 1, 1970

Graham opened Baylor’s 125th-anniversary convocation, delivering an address to about 10,000 people in Waco’s Heart of Texas Coliseum.

He said there was a need for institutions with a “Spiritual emphasis” to compensate for “the tragic failure of American secular education—the failure to educate the total person in mind, body and spirit.”

“There is no reason for Baylor’s existence as an educational institution without spiritual emphasis,” he said. “That is one thing we’ve got that makes us unique. That is why there will always be a Baylor. ... (A Christian institution) should give relevance to Christian faith through social concern. Blessed is the man who stands with the gospel of the Bible in one hand and social concern in the other.”