Remembering Billy Graham’s Sister: Jean Graham Ford

March 1, 2024

Categories: Billy Graham, News

Jean Graham Ford, photo courtesy of the Ford family

On the morning of Feb. 29, 2024, Billy Graham’s youngest sister, Jean Graham Ford, joined her siblings and parents in the arms of Jesus.

Jean was born in 1932 and was raised in the Graham family homeplace, just a few miles from where it is now located on the Library grounds. When she was born, her eldest brother, Billy Graham, was already a teenager. In his autobiography, Just As I Am, Billy Graham recalls a family trip to Orlando to visit some extended family at their boarding house when Jean, even at a young age, shared about Jesus:

“While we were in Orlando, Daddy did something unusual: he encouraged little Jean (who was four) to get up on the table in front of the guests and “preach” to them. She was so cute, with her beautiful blond hair, that they stopped to pay attention. I don’t know why Daddy put her up to it, but Jean was serious about her message and told the guests that they need to come to Jesus. I guess you could say she was the first preacher in our family.”

Billy Graham holding his baby sister Jean, with brother Melvin Graham (right)

When Jean was 11 years old she became gravely sick with polio. Jean once recalled finding out about her diagnosis:

“That night, I heard the nurse tell my mother and father out in the hall that I would not make it through the night,” Ford said, later noting the doctors were concerned because polio had paralyzed her throat. They feared it might spread to her heart or lungs.

“I was so sick. Maybe 103, 104 fever, terrible headache and neck ache. And I did not care whether I made it or not. … I do remember this very clearly, that if I died that night, at that age, that would not have bothered me so much because I knew then I was going to heaven.”

Eventually, the paralysis in Jean’s throat faded and she was able to speak and swallow with little difficulty for the remainder of her life.

The Graham Family in 1971: (from left) Morrow Coffey Graham, Jean Graham Ford, Melvin Graham, Billy Graham, Catherine Graham McElroy

Later, Jean attended Wheaton College where she met her husband, Leighton Ford. They served in ministry together with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, where Leighton was an Associate Evangelist and Vice President from 1955 to 1986. He later founded Leighton Ford Ministries which focuses on training and mentoring young leaders in evangelism. Together, Jean and Leighton Ford had three children, but their eldest son, Sandy, died following heart surgery in November 1981.

Jean and Leighton Ford in 1976

Jean was active as a women’s Bible study leader at her church in Charlotte, N.C. She also served on the board for Women of Vision, a volunteer movement of World Vision, and traveled all over the world with her husband through his evangelistic work. The two were often at Billy Graham Crusade events supporting her older brother. In a handwritten note to Billy Graham from an unknown year, Jean lauded her brother’s efforts from the pulpit:

              “I am so thankful that you gave such a teaching – convicting – sobering message.

              Thanks for being you – so kindly and godly – and my brother!

              Love- Jean

Handwritten note to Billy Graham from Jean Graham Ford (year unknown)
Jean Graham Ford with Billy Graham in 2003

Jean Graham Ford’s legacy, like her brother’s, will live on in the hearts and lives of those she touched. It’s a legacy we all hope to leave behind – the message that God loved us so much that He sent His one and only Son to save us from sin.

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