Private Funeral Service Participant Bios
POSTED: March 1, 2018, 8:04 P.M. ET
Listed below are brief bios for those who will participate in the private funeral service for Billy Graham.
George E. Battle Jr.
Bishop George E. Battle Jr. of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church in Charlotte will conduct the closing prayer for the funeral service. Battle is the senior bishop of the A.M.E. Zion Church and the presiding prelate of the Piedmont Episcopal District. He has been a pastor since 1966 in various churches in North Carolina and South Carolina, and was president of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education from 1990 to 1995. He currently serves on the board of directors of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Tom Bledsoe will lead the congregational singing during the funeral service. Bledsoe has been with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for more than 30 years. During that time, he has served as choir director for countless Billy Graham Crusades and Franklin Graham Festivals. He has also served as emcee for many Franklin Graham Festivals.
As part of Scottish tradition, Pipe Major William Boetticher will provide a bagpipe escort for the Graham family at the end of the service. Boetticher has been a professional bagpiper for some 30 years serving Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo and Los Angeles, California, counties.
David Bruce will welcome funeral guests. Bruce, a native of North Carolina, has served on staff at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for 31 years, including 23 years as executive assistant to Billy Graham. Having earned his Doctor of Ministry degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Bruce has pastored churches in Colorado, Texas, Florida and Kentucky. He is president of Blue Ridge Broadcasting (WMIT) and a member of the board of directors of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and board of trustees for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in Illinois.
Robert Cunville will offer a prayer of thanksgiving during the funeral service. Born in Shillong, India, Cunville became the first member of the Khasi community to gain a degree in theology. He has been president of United Bible Societies since 2010, and has spent 35 years as an associate evangelist with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Sami Dagher, along with Billy Kim, will pay tribute to Graham’s work around the globe. Dagher is the founding pastor of the Karantina Alliance Church in Beirut, Lebanon, as well as founder of the Christian Alliance Institute of Theology, a Bible training school in Beirut. He has planted churches throughout Lebanon and various parts of the world. Dagher first heard Billy Graham in 1971 and was invited to serve as a keynote speaker for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s itinerant evangelism conferences in Amsterdam (1983, 1986, 2000).
Jean Ford, the younger sister of Billy Graham, will offer a family tribute. Ford is Graham’s only surviving sibling, the fourth child born to Frank and Morrow Graham. Her brother, Melvin, and sister, Catherine, preceded Jean Ford and Billy Graham in death. Ford is married to Leighton Ford, a former associate evangelist and vice president for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The Fords have three children, one of whom has preceded them in death.
Gaither Vocal Band
The Gaither Vocal Band will perform one of Graham’s favorite hymns, “Because He Lives.” Longtime friends of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the Gaither Vocal Band first sang at Billy Graham’s Charlotte Crusade in 1996, as well as his final Crusade in New York in 2005. Founder and bass singer Bill Gaither and his wife, Gloria, have written many songs recorded on the group’s albums, and have had the privilege of encouraging and singing for Mr. Graham in his home in Montreat.
Gigi Graham, Anne Graham Lotz, Ruth Graham and Ned Graham
Viktor Hamm will provide logistical instructions to guests before and after the funeral service. As vice president of crusade ministries at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Hamm provides leadership to Franklin Graham Festivals and Will Graham Celebrations worldwide. Born in Vorkuta, Russia, Hamm began working with the ministry as an associate evangelist in Europe in 1992.
John Innes will provide the piano prelude, postlude and accompaniment at the private funeral service. Beginning in 1965, Innes was the staff musician for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, serving as both pianist and organist in Graham’s Crusades worldwide. Innes was born in England and came to the U.S. in 1958. He has a bachelor’s in music from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and a master’s of music from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
Billy Kim, along with Sami Dagher, will pay tribute to Graham’s work around the globe. In 1973, Kim served as Graham’s interpreter at a Crusade in Seoul, South Korea, attended by some 1.1 million people, and remained a good friend of Graham’s until his death. After serving as senior pastor for 45 years at Suwon Central Baptist Church in Seoul, Kim is currently the pastor emeritus of the mega-church with a weekly attendance of some 15,000. He was also the first Asian to be named president of the Baptist World Alliance, a position he held for five years. Since 1973, Kim has been the president of Far East Broadcasting Company in Korea. Kim graduated from Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, earning a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.
Linda McCrary-Fisher will sing Until Then by Stuart Hamblen at the funeral service. Born into a musical family, McCrary-Fisher began her career at age 5 as part of The McCrarys—a gospel and R&B group comprised of her siblings. As a member of the Tommy Coomes Band, McCrary-Fisher has been involved with ministry events held by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association since 2002, and has had the opportunity to sing to Billy Graham in his home in recent years.
Michael W. Smith
Michael W. Smith will perform at the funeral service. Smith is a singer-songwriter, composer and actor. A three-time Grammy Award-winner, he has earned 45 Dove Awards and sold more than 15 million albums. After meeting Billy Graham at a Crusade in the 1980s—when Smith was a pianist for Amy Grant—Smith himself participated in numerous Billy Graham Crusades, including the innovative “youth nights” incorporated in the 1990s. Smith was a musical guest on the last day of Billy Graham’s final Crusade in New York (2005), and, in recent years, spent time visiting Graham at his home, where he was able to sing for his friend and mentor.
Donald J. Wilton
Donald J. Wilton will conduct the Scripture reading and offer the invocation. A native of South Africa, Wilton is senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, South Carolina. He is a frequent speaker for the Billy Graham Schools of Evangelism held across the U.S. and Europe, as well as the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. When Billy Graham could no longer attend church in person, he watched televised services of Wilton’s messages and came to view Wilton as his pastor, even becoming a member of First Baptist Church of Spartanburg in 2008. Wilton visited Graham at his home almost weekly in recent years.