It would stand to reason that a grandson of “America’s Preacher” would follow in his footsteps. But the Rev. William “Will” Graham, Billy Graham’s grandson, said his parents encouraged him to be whatever he wanted. His father, the Rev. Franklin Graham, took up the preaching mantle himself and leads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. However, while in second grade, Will’s teacher asked his class to draw a picture of their dream profession.
“I drew two pictures: an open Bible, because I wanted to be a preacher. And a pair of David Clark headsets,” he said.
It’s what pilots use, with a microphone on the side. “They’re the ugliest green color in the world,” Graham said in a recent phone interview from Canada, where this week he was helping lead a missions conference in Vancouver.
Like Franklin Graham before him, both piloting and preaching came to pass. Will Graham received his license to fly and his license to preach in the same year: 1997.
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Late last year, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) announced that Will Graham would headline the East Alabama West Georgia Will Graham Celebration March 26-28 at Beard-Eaves-Memorial Coliseum in Auburn.
The East Alabama West Georgia Will Graham Celebration is a not-for-profit corporation, under the direction of a Celebration General Committee led by chairman Banks Herndon, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Opelika. The march Celebration is free.
Will Graham, 34, is in Opelika today for a breakfast rally. It’s 8:30-10:30 a.m. CST at the Greater Peace Missionary Baptist Church Family Life Center, 650 Jeter Ave.
Born Jan. 30, 1975, Will is one of four children of Franklin and Jane Graham of Boone, N.C. He’s married to the former Kendra Leigh Bengds. They have three children.
Since 2006, he’s been assistant director of the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in North Carolina. Ordained in 2002, William is a former pastor of Wakefield Baptist Church in Wake Forest, N.C.
He has a B.S. in Religion from Liberty University and a Master of Divinity from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his family live in Swannanoa, N.C., east of Asheville and west of his grandfather’s home in Montreat.
In 2004, Graham led his first large-scale evangelistic event for youth. It was in Canada. In 2006, his first threeday Celebration was in Gastonia, N.C. Since beginning his North American evangelistic ministry, he has spoken to more than 50,000 during his Will Graham Celebrations.
His siblings are: Roy, who works in operations for the BGEA; Edward, now deployed to Afghanistan (and formerly stationed at Fort Benning); and sister Cissie Graham Lynch, married to Corey Lynch of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Billy Graham, 91, has been a spiritual adviser to many United States presidents and is number seven on Gallup’s list of admired people for the 21st century. He is a Southern Baptist. His wife, Ruth Bell Graham, died in 2007.
Will Graham said Billy Graham is now doing “extremely well,” following hospitalizations last year in Asheville. He’s had a nursing change and a change in medication. “He was so overly medicated and got real drowsy,” Graham said. With newfound energy, his grandfather recently told his nurses: “ ‘I want to go back to work,’ so they’d take him back to his office (at the house). He’d say he wanted to talk to people on the phone.”
Will Graham was recently asked how the culture is different today from when his grandfather preached. “There’s a lot of things fighting for people’s attention,” he said. “When you turn on the TV, there are not three channels — there are 300. There’s music, iPods, email. When it comes to evangelism, you have to be more direct and pointed in your time. You’ve got to get in there and tell people about Jesus, because within a few minutes their attention span is gone and they’ve switched channels.” He’s felt complimented when people compare him to his grandfather and father: the emphatic gestures and strong voice. It’s nothing he practiced. “The mannerisms you learn unknowingly,” he said. “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”