Aram Tchividjian’s grandfather always used to say “he wanted to live to 100, and we were like, ‘Yeah, right,’” he remembers. “But the closer he got, the more we thought, knowing him ‘Well, wait a minute, maybe it’s gonna happen!’”
Unfortunately, Rev. Billy Graham, or “Daddy Bill” to his family, which includes his grandson, Web engineer and Delray Beach resident Tchvidijian, passed away Wednesday, just 10 months short of his 100th birthday.
But the family of the late international faith crusader and adviser to several American presidents say he lived every one of those 99-plus years as a down-t0-earth man with integrity and humor.
“There are some things people don’t know, and this makes me laugh, but his favorite movie was ‘Pretty Woman.’ His favorite restaurant was Morrison’s Cafeteria. That sums him up,” says Tchividjian, 42, one of Graham’s 19 grandchildren, whose mother Gigi is one of the pastor’s five children.
“We were at Morrison’s once, maybe 10 of us, and he’s got a baseball cap on. Two elderly women walk up and stop at the table and say ‘Excuse us, but has anyone ever told you that you look so much like Rev. Billy Graham?’ He said, ‘That’s so funny. I get that all the time!’”
Tchividjian, who with brother Basyle wrote two books about his grandfather, says that Graham’s “humility” was one of the things that stood out the most to his family. He recalls the late pastor’s friendliness, inviting his grandson’s friends for a visit to his home in North Carolina, some of whom “reached out to me and said ‘I’ll never forget that time we went to your grandfather’s house and he let us jump on his bed.’”
“This was a guy,” his grandson continues, “who was friends with the Queen, who had Muhammad Ali and Bono visit him at home, who was friends with presidents. He just had no ego about it at all. He had a supernatural gift to be like ‘Yeah, Bono was here, but I don’t think that’s any more special than the maintenance guy mowing the lawn outside.’”
That lack of pretension spilled over into one of Graham’s 1990s visits to West Palm Beach to see Tchividjian, at the time a student at Palm Beach Atlantic University. (The reverend eventually spoke at his grandson’s 1997 graduation.) Unbeknownst to Graham, someone booked him at the Ritz-Carlton (now the Eau Palm Beach Resort and Spa) in Manalapan.
“When he got there he was like ‘Who booked us here? We’re not staying here. We don’t stay at the Ritz.’ They stayed one night and then checked into a Marriott. That’s how he was. When he rented cars, he would only rent a Ford Crown Victorian. You see so many pastors, who are much smaller pastors, who are all about fancy cars and nice hotel rooms. But not him. It was always such a good thing, as his grandson, to see that.”
Tchividjian says that his grandfather’s character was even exemplified in the forthright way in which he handled his one significant scandal, the 2002 release of audio tapes of a 30 year-old conversation with then-President Richard Nixon during which he made anti-Semitic statements.
“The way he responded was ‘I am so sorry. I don’t even remember saying that, but obviously I did,’” he says. “I am so sorry now. What can I possible say?’ Look at the totality of his life. This was a blip. And people chose to judge him on the way he lived his life.”
Grandson and grandfather last saw each other in person about a year ago. Even as Graham’s health waned, Tchividjian says “we had a really good day. He was alert and talking, not super-talkative, but we got some great pictures of him with the kids. We had ‘I love yous’ and squeezing each other’s hands.”
So far, Tchividjian says there are not definite plans for his grandfather’s burial, but he knows that it will be in Charlotte, N.C., where Graham’s late wife Ruth is buried.
He says that he hopes he is remembered as a man who made a positive effect on the world.
“If anyone had a reason to sort of think of themselves as important, he did. He just didn’t.”