Billy Graham once considered for LC presidency

Billy Graham once rejected overtures to become president of Louisiana College in Pineville to continue his work as an evangelist.

    Billy Graham once rejected overtures to become
president of Louisiana College in Pineville to continue his work as an

    Graham, now 86, recently conducted what may have
been be his final crusade in New York at Flushing Meadows Coronoa Park.
Graham spoke at Louisiana College in 1949 and 1951. He was 33 at the
time of his second appearance, and he already had established himself
as one of the country’s most-powerful Christian evangelists.

    Edgar Godbold was president of Louisiana College in
1951 and was planning to retire the following year. According to Oscar
Hoffmeyer’s book, “Louisiana College, 75 Years: A Pictorial History,”
Graham was among those the trustees considered to succeed Godbold.

    But Graham declined the overtures.

    “In a telegram read to the trustees May 22, 1951,
(Graham) requested that his name ‘not be presented’ to the board
because ‘he didn’t have an impression this should be done,’” Hoffmeyer

    Graham’s stature with Southern Baptists also received a boost from a man who now lives in Pineville.

    In the 1950s, Leonard Sanderson was director of
evangelism for the Tennessee Baptist Convention in Nashville. He can be
credited with introducing Graham to the Southern Baptist Convention. It
is not that the convention did not know about Graham before but that he
had not been widely accepted, Sanderson says.

    Graham was conducting a crusade in Nashville, and
Sanderson invited the evangelist to speak at the state convention
staff’s weekly prayer meeting.

    “In retrospect, it seems simplistic to say Billy
Graham made a grand impression upon Nashville, the ‘Athens of the
South,’ and also the domicile of a disproportionate number of America’s
religious denominations, including Southern Baptists,” Sanderson says.
“Grady Wilson, longtime associate to Graham, told me later that
Nashville was a significant turning point in their ministry.”

    Sanderson is more than a colleague. He and Graham had a friendship. Sanderson refers to it as a fellowship.

    Sanderson once went to Graham’s home in North
Carolina for lunch between sessions where Graham was speaking before a
Baptist group.

    Sanderson says he vividly remembers the conversation
in which he was invited to lunch, recalling Graham saying: “The meal
will be waiting for us. Ruth (Graham’s wife) is out of town, and our
cook has been asked to prepare a country dinner for two country boys,
Leonard and Billy.”

    Sanderson eventually helped Graham in several
crusades. Sanderson, whose final job was with the Louisiana Baptist
Convention, is retired now.

    It has been awhile since Sanderson and Graham have sat together for a good talk.

    “We know each other,” Sanderson says. “And I don’t
want to make a big deal out of it. He’s not that way. He’s exactly as
he appears – he’s personable, the kind of man who can sit down, talk
table talk with you.

    “Along with the rest of the world, I have watched
Billy as a guest of Johnny Carson, Larry King and others,” Sanderson
adds. “He seems never to have forgotten who he is. He seems totally
unaffected by the cameras and the hosts. He is never hesitant or
stammering in talking about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit or the
Christian experience as he interprets it. He is likely the best public
relations person God has ever had, save Jesus. On those occasions, he
preaches without being preachy.”

    Some people refer to Graham as the Protestant Pope, Sanderson notes.

    “In the sense of being renowned, respected and
recognized, there would be some kind of parallel, but Billy Graham has
never tried to speak for others,” he says.  “So far as I know, he
has never been elected except by God. That is the best explanation for
Billy Graham I know.”