Marietta man spent nearly five decades working with Billy Graham

The Rev. Henry Holley of Marietta was by Billy Graham’s side for decades as part of his team.

Holley, a 90-year-old retired Marine, spent years organizing crusades across Asia for the beloved religious leader, including a 1973 crusade in South Korea that drew more than 1.1 million faithful on the closing day.

“I was one of the workhorses,” said Holley, one of the oldest surviving senior members of the Graham team.

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On Wednesday, Holley’s phone was ringing nonstop with calls from people offering condolences and sharing memories of the popular evangelist and prolific author.

Graham, his friend and mentor, was dead at 99.

Graham’s broadcast ministry, which included television and radio, reached millions of people across the globe.

Holley’s home is like a museum, with dozens and dozens of photos of Holley and Graham lining walls on every floor.

By the time Holley met Graham in the 1960s, Graham was already famous, packing venues across the nation with his message about the love and salvation of Jesus Christ.

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“It never affected his humility,” said Holley. “He was the most humble, genuine, loving and forgiving person I’ve ever known. He gave all the glory to God.”

The day Holley retired from the Marines in 1967, he started working for Graham at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association full time. A few days after that, he was planning a Billy Graham Crusade in Tokyo.

Soon he moved his family to Montreat, N.C., and also managed the office there.

Graham, he said, had a “singular objective in life, and that was to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ and he did just that.”

Towering more than 6 feet tall, Graham cut an imposing figure. Because of his good looks, some people thought he would have a future in Hollywood. Others suggested he seek political office.

Graham had no interest in either.

He used to say that he had the highest position there is on Earth already as a witness and proclaimer to the Word of God, said Holley.

The families were so close that Holley’s daughter, Debbie, called Graham “Uncle Billy” and his wife, who is deceased, “Aunt Ruth.”

When Debbie Holley’s mother, Bettie, died in August 2016, Franklin Graham delivered the eulogy. Billy Graham, frail at the time, didn’t attend the funeral, but Franklin Graham “brought his daddy’s greetings.”

Graham was always very conscious of perceptions.

“He would never be in a hotel room or office with another woman other than his wife or family members,” Holley said. “If he was in the office with a woman, he kept the door open. He wouldn’t even sit on the same car seat with a woman other than his wife or family members. He never owned a Cadillac. His personal discipline kept him from being attacked and ruined by the devil.”

He said Graham was strict when he told staffers to never disparage other ministers, rather pray for them. He made sure staffers kept financial documents in order.

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Graham also believed God didn’t favor rich over poor or black over white.

Holley was with Graham during a crusade in Chattanooga one time when he noticed the crowd was segregated. He told the head usher to remove the ropes.

The usher refused to do so.

So Graham stepped down from the platform and removed them himself.

"He said he would not have a segregated meeting," said Holley. "Never." He also made sure African-American pastors were included in meetings when he held crusades in their cities and that he had an integrated team.

Graham was a confidant for world leaders. He prayed with them. He never, however, broke their confidence.

One time, he visited with President Harry S. Truman at the White House. He asked Truman if he could pray for him. He got on his knees and did so. When he left the Oval Office, a bevy of reporters asked what they talked about.

Graham said he prayed with Truman. They asked him to demonstrate and he got on his knees. His photo went everywhere.

“That was the best lesson for Billy Graham,” Holley said. “He learned never to discuss with anyone what you have discussed with a head of state from that point on. I was with him on three or four occasions when he met heads of state in Asia. I knew better than to ask how it went. We would sit there and talk about the weather and beautiful flowers.”

Graham also didn’t spend lavishly on clothes.

One time in New Orleans, he was invited to dinner but complained he didn’t have a dark suit. Holley had one. He offered to take it to a tailor to see if they could extend the legs.

Graham wore the suit “and I never got that suit back either.”

He said Graham used to tell his team that “you’re going to read one day that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t believe it for a minute. I’m more alive now than ever before. I’ve just changed addresses.”