Many WNC pastors say they were blessed to call Graham a friend and mentor
Pastor Ralph Sexton Jr. said his late father, Pastor Ralph Sexton Sr., and the Rev. Billy Graham came up together as boy preachers in Western North Carolina.
"Dr. Graham was born in 1918," Sexton said. "My dad was born in 1919."
Sexton, senior pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in West Asheville, has fond memories of Graham and how, for decades, he remained close with his dad. Sexton said his aunt recalled how, in their early days, Graham would call his father up to go golfing. But there's one memory from his father's later years that Sexton keeps close.
"He (my Dad) had had a major heart attack, and they brought him to the home," Sexton said. "And the bed phone rang, the bedside phone. And, I said, 'Hello.' He said, 'Ralph, this is Billy. I'm calling to check about your father. How's he doing?' That's the kind of care he always showed."
Brookstone Baptist Senior Pastor Jim Dykes knew Graham as a mentor and close friend.
"When I saw it come across my internet feed, it was a mixture of joy and surprise," he said.
Joy, he said, because he knew how much Graham loved Jesus and was now in Heaven with him and Graham's beloved wife, Ruth.
Dykes said he spent many hours with Graham, learning and gaining an appreciation for Graham's authenticity in his love for Jesus Christ. One item Dykes said he holds dear is Graham's book, given to him and signed by Graham.
"Over a period of a number of years, Dr. Graham and I spent a lot of time together just sitting and chatting. He loved to talk about ministry. And, he really loved to talk about Ruth after she passed. I think the greatest impact that my friendship with Dr. Graham had on me was his authenticity," Dykes said.
Pastor Bruce Frank, of Biltmore Church, met Graham about 2009. Frank had moved from Texas to come to Biltmore Church. He proudly hangs a photo with Graham, along with his sons on his office wall.
"He was winsome. He was humble," Frank said. "When we met him, he was in his early 90s, Ruth had just passed away recently."
Frank said at first he was overwhelmed meeting Graham in person, but he quickly felt his warmth and humble spirit. That made the meeting of the spiritual legend even more unforgettable.
"As a younger preacher, even then, he was a great model for integrity," Frank said.
Dykes said there is peace for the many who knew Graham, because they knew he was at peace with when the day of his death finally came.
"In fact," said Dykes, "he said once, didn't he, one day, you'll hear Billy Graham has died. Don't believe it for a minute. I'll be more alive than I've ever been."