Richard Nixon was a private person, but he had a friendship with Billy Graham that began in the early 1950’s when they met in Washington, D.C. during Nixon’s freshman year as a senator from California.
Nixon loved the game of golf and invited Billy to play on several occasions. Nixon loved to coach Billy while they played and would tell him where to aim his shot. One Christmas, Nixon even gave Billy a set of clubs from France that Billy had tried to purchase while there, but the pro in the shop wouldn’t sell them.
When he was elected President, Nixon wanted Billy to be the sole person to deliver prayers at the inauguration; however, Billy told him to make sure all faiths would be represented and let the inauguration be more ecumenical.
Billy spoke at the first White House worship service of Nixon’s administration and again a few days later at the National Prayer Breakfast. Billy initially refused to speak at both because the press was already calling him “chaplain to the White House,” but he ended up speaking at both anyway.
Billy continued to remain a trusted friend and confidant to President Nixon throughout his time in office. In his autobiography, Billy writes, “I could see the value in a president’s having some trusted friends without a personal agenda who could function unofficially and informally as a sounding board for his ideas. This seemed to be [Nixon’s] plan for me. In one of his first weeks in the White House, I told him that if he ever wanted to talk to someone who would never quote him without authorization, I would be glad to be such a person. The presidency was a lonely spot.”
When the Watergate scandal unfolded, Nixon distanced himself from Billy for the remainder of his presidency. Of Watergate, Billy shared, “I wanted to believe the best about him for as long as I could. When the worst came out, it was nearly unbearable for me.” After Nixon resigned, he mentioned Watergate only once to Billy.
Years later, at Nixon’s funeral, Billy spoke at the funeral, “The world has lost a great citizen, America has lost a great statesman, and those of us who knew him have lost a personal friend. His public service kept him at the center of the events that have shaped our destiny.”
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 31, 2020. For more information on the exhibit, visit www.billygrahamlibrary.org.