The Grahams’ friendship with the Bush family began years before George H.W. Bush ran for any political office. They vacationed together from time to time, including a trip to Mexico in 1979 (which was combined with a speaking engagement for the Young Presidents’ Organization). During this trip, a Mexican businessman invited the Graham and Bush families to join him on his yacht. Billy had not brought a pair of swim trunks, so he borrowed a white pair of trunks from Bush. After lunch, Billy decided to walk back to the condo where he was staying instead of waiting on the rest of the group. While he was walking back, he was stopped by a Mexican military official – the beach where the group had picnicked was on a military base. Since the guard didn’t speak English, he had Billy sit on a bench while he waited on his superior officer to arrive. Billy recounts in Just As I Am, “After much waiting and much explaining, the officer finally released me and allowed me to walk home, barefoot on the hot concrete. Only when I finally reached the condominium did I realize the bench had just been repainted and George’s trunks had big smears of green paint across the rear! No amount of laundering could get them clean, but George said it was well worth sacrificing a pair of swim trunks just to enjoy a good laugh over my dilemma.”
On Inauguration Day in 1989, President Bush asked Billy to lead all of the prayers during the ceremony. At first, Billy refused, giving Bush the same advice he had given to Nixon (to represent other faiths). However, after the new president’s insistence, saying that “he didn’t want people to think he was just trying to play politics by having representatives of different faiths,” Billy agreed. Shortly after the inauguration, Billy addressed Bush as “Mr. President” for the first time instead of by his first name. In Just As I Am, Billy remembers, “It was an awkward moment, and I stumbled a bit. He knew my dilemma, since many of his other friends felt the same way. He looked a bit wistful, and his gaze went to the far distance. No matter how much a president might wish it otherwise, there is a loneliness to that office that can never be completely overcome. That loneliness is one of the burdens of leadership.”
Billy was also present for significant moments of this administration, including the beginning of the Persian Gulf War. Billy received a call one morning in January 1991, asking him to come to the White House for lunch. Unfortunately, Billy had no way of getting to Washington that quickly, so the invitation was changed to a dinner invitation. That night, Billy sat in the Blue Room of the White House next to Barbara and George Bush as the first anti-aircraft fire went up against the incoming U.S. attack. They prayed together about the war – that it would be short and have few casualties. After President Bush delivered an address to the nation via television later that evening, he told Billy, “I know in my heart I’ve done right.”
The Billy Graham Library is featuring an exhibit Pastor to Presidents highlighting Billy Graham’s friendships with our nation’s Executive Office. The exhibit runs through December 23, 2020. For more information on the exhibit, visit www.billygrahamlibrary.org.