AUSTIN (KXAN) – Signs of the strong friendship between Reverend Billy Graham and former President Lyndon B. Johnson are on display inside the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin.
“I think [Johnson] relied on folks like Billy Graham to put things in perspective for him,” said Mark Updegrove, president and CEO of the LBJ Presidential Library.
Graham, who was the most prominent Christian evangelist and served as counselor to past presidents, passed away Wednesday. He was 99. He held at least 13 crusades across Texas between 1951 and 2002. One of his last crusades was in Dallas in 2002. He brought out a record, crowd-filled Texas stadium.
Graham spoke at every Prayer Breakfast during Johnson’s presidency and also visited the president at his ranch near Johnson City often. When the LBJ Presidential Library opened in 1971, Graham gave the invocation.
“When you have as heavy a load as presidents have, I think spirituality is incredibly important,” Updegrove said. “You have to understand there are bigger things in the world.”
Updegrove said Graham’s guidance was critical in helping Johnson through tough times of his presidency, documented in several phone calls.
“You can hear on the phone call between President Johnson and Reverend Graham the great respect that they had for one another,” Updegrove said. “You can hear Billy Graham say I know what you’re going through. I know the burdens that are on your plate. I know there’s all of that anxiety you’re shouldering right now. And you can hear President Johnson appreciating that he had Billy Graham’s attention and compassion and relying on him for spiritual counsel and guidance.”
Graham presided over graveside services at Johnson’s funeral. He and his wife also stayed the night at the White House on the last night of Johnson’s presidency, according to the LBJ Presidential Library.
Former President George H.W. Bush called Graham a “mentor” to several of his children, including his son, former President George W. Bush.
“His love for Christ and his gentle soul helped open hearts to the Word, including mine,” the younger President Bush said in a statement.
Inside the Legislative Reference Library at the Texas State Capitol, there is an old resolution from the 62nd Regular Session inviting Graham to have a crusade in Austin.
An old article, titled “God Holds U.S. Hopes – Graham,” also highlights Graham’s advice during a prayer breakfast.
“Recalling the men of the Alamo who were willing to die, Graham said: ‘If they were willing to die for Texas, you should be willing to live for Texas,’” the article said.