Thursday, June 27, 2002

At 83, Graham paces himself


Despite illness, age, preacher's ready

By Richelle Thompson, rthompson@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In his younger days, the Rev. Billy Graham would speak several times a day to civic and university groups while in a city for a crusade. He would meet with community leaders for prayers and grant numerous interviews with local print, TV and radio reporters.

        Now, the Rev. Mr. Graham conserves his energy for preaching. He'll take the stage tonight to kick off the Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Billy Graham Mission.

Billy Graham
Age and ill health have slowed Billy Graham's public activities.
        Age and ill health have reined in his public activities. Since his arrival in Cincinnati last weekend, the Rev. Mr. Graham has met only twice with local leaders, including a Jewish group to whom he apologized for his negative remarks in a conversation with President Nixon in 1972.

        Other than brief comments at a press conference Tuesday, the Rev. Mr. Graham has not assented to interview requests.

        The evangelist is resting and preparing his messages for each of the four nights of the mission, said his spokesman, A. Larry Ross.

        The 83-year-old evangelist suffers from Parkinson's disease, a neurological condition. He had surgery in 2000 to relieve fluid pressure on his brain.

        “He's had to pace himself,” Mr. Ross said. “It's very taxing to preach four nights at a stadium, whether you're 33 or 83. And it's not only the physical exertion. ... He's often said it's really the spiritual dimension that he finds most draining — realizing the eternal destiny of a stadium full of people may be dependent upon the words he speaks.”

        A local doctor has volunteered to be at the stadium and has talked with the Rev. Mr. Graham's personal physician, said Jeff Anderson, mission director. The volunteer doctor also will be on hand should any of the 100 or more out-of-town staff and entertainers need medical attention, Mr. Anderson said.

        He would not disclose the name of the doctor.

        With temperatures expected to be in the mid- to upper 80s, mission organizers are working to find a way to provide some relief from the heat for the Rev. Mr. Graham and other guests onstage. Mr. Anderson said the team will meet today to decide whether to use fans or portable air ducts to pump in cool air.

        The Rev. Mr. Graham will ride in a golf cart on and off the field. In addition to stairs onto the stage, workers have erected a wheelchair lift and a ramp.

        Still, Mr. Ross doesn't expect the heat and humidity to pose a problem for the evangelist.

        “Mr. Graham has said he's feeling as good this week as he has in the past six months,” said Mr. Ross. “From all indications, he's in top form for a man his age and will be there Thursday through Sunday to preach each night at Paul Brown Stadium.”
       



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