Doug Phillips, Billy Graham, and the Presidential Inauguration
The media excitement and drama of this year's presidential inauguration is finally beginning to dissipate, but our family is still mulling over this peculiar election, comparing and contrasting it with a number of other interesting presidential transitions and experiences. When Doug and I first met in college, he would knock on my door with a brass key ring, a token he received participating in the first Presidential Inauguration of Ronald Reagan. But during my last semester at William and Mary, the inauguration of a president took on a new and special meaning as I received daily reports from Doug about his time as the driver for Dr. Billy Graham.
There are beautiful treasures in American history that often go unmentioned or forgotten. One of these treasures is the generational legacy of Billy Graham and his son Franklin, a father and son who have become fixtures in American presidential inaugurations. For years, Dr. Graham has been called the pastor to the presidency. He offered prayer at the inaugurations of Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. His son Franklin carried on the tradition at the 2001 inauguration of George Bush, and again this last week for President Donald Trump.
Almost thirty years ago, for a short season, Doug was given the opportunity to be the driver for Dr. Graham and his wife, Ruth Bell Graham. On Inauguration Day in January 1989, Doug had the amazing experience of driving Dr. Graham and his wife. I remember getting the reports from him each day. Here is his story and thoughts in his own words:
"I was just at the right place at the right time. It was the very end of the Reagan era. I was in my early twenties and a guest at a small Bible study in Washington D.C.. Most of the people in the room were strangers to me. Someone raised the question about the life and work of Dr. Billy Graham. Everyone took a turn sharing thoughts. When it came to me, I commented that there could be little doubt that no evangelical had had such an impact on the 20th century, but that I had questions about Dr. Graham's comments on a number of controversial subjects, most notably China, the Soviet Union, and the persecuted church. After the meeting, I was approached by a man who asked me a series of questions, gave me his credentials, and then offered me a job as driver to Dr. Graham. "This will give you plenty of time to ask him your questions yourself." I was speechless and stunned, but pulled myself together and accepted on the spot. Thus began a great adventure.
During my brief time as chauffeur to Dr. Graham, his wife, and his dear friend T.W. Wilson, I was not only able to ask all my old questions, but many new ones. I drove him to embassies, meetings with dignitaries, and religious and political leaders. And he invited me to talk with him, to stand next to him, and to just watch and listen. Each night I came home and kept an extensive diary so I would not forget. The most impressionable experiences took place in the 72 hours surrounding the Presidential Inauguration of George H.W. Bush.
The day before the inauguration, Dr. Graham asked me to drive him on a tour of memories around the Capitol. It was less than two hours, but it was the most remarkable "faith and freedom tour" experience of my life. He pointed out places, one by one, where he had met with great leaders of the 20th century. Here he met with FDR. There with Truman. There with Nixon. In fact, he had met with every president since the Second World War. He told me stories about others whom he had met, not necessarily in D.C., including his brief private time at 10 Downing Street with my own namesake, Winston Churchill.
Those 72 hours were a larger than life experience. Each hour seemed to be jam-packed with unique opportunity. Wherever we went, people knew him, loved him. Because of security in the Capitol, we were pulled over frequently by police. Before I could flash my driver's badge, they would look in the car and say, "Oh it's you, Dr. Graham. You know, I am a Catholic, but I just love you..." Or "Dr. Graham, you changed my mother's life." We rounded the Jefferson Memorial, and he asked me to pull over. There was his friend Adrian Rogers walking on the street. A conversation ensued. More locations. More people stepping out from and participating in history. And the richness and diversity of the conversations that week was beautiful - ministry in the 40's, the music of Sandi Patty, Wheaton College, his life with Ruth Bell, his greatest regrets in life, joys, his children, changing perspectives, the Church in America, and more.
On the day of the inauguration, I was nervous. I had to drive Dr. Graham to be with the President to deliver his prayer, cool my heels for three hours while that was happening, and hope to beat my way back through Secret Service blockades, find Dr. Graham again, and then drive him in the rest of the events of the day. There were no cell phones in those days, and no way to communicate once the events began. Inaugurations are events rife with order and chaos existing side by side.
On the way to see the President-elect, I ask Dr. Graham about the prayer he was going to offer. He took it out of his pocket and showed it to me. Two hours later he delivered that supplication to the nation. Here is what it said:
'And now we come to a new era in our history. In Thy sovereignty, Thou hast permitted George Bush to lead us at this momentous hour of our history for the next four years. As he today places his hand upon the Bible and solemnly swears before Thee to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, give him the wisdom, integrity, and courage to help this become a nation that is gentle and kind. Protect him from physical danger and in the lonely moments of decision, grant him Thy wisdom to know what is morally right and an uncompromising courage to do it. Give him a cool head and a warm heart. Give him a compassion for those in physical, moral, and spiritual need. O God, we consecrate today George Herbert Walker Bush to the Presidency of these United States with the assurance that from this hour on, as he and his family move into the White House, they will have the presence and power of the One who said, “I will never leave thee or forsake thee. [Hebrews 13:5]'
It is amazing to me, in this age of indifference and cynicism, that the legacy of Dr. Graham continues to speak to this nation in our defining national events, now even through his son Franklin. Together, they represent something very special - a combined century and a half of life coming from one family devoted to a common kingdom cause. Of all the significant moments from this particular presidential inauguration, this was the most beautiful and personal to me."