Parnell recalls Rev. Billy Graham’s Alaska legacy


When the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham died last week, some in Alaska thought immediately of his son, Franklin Graham, who has strong ties to the 49th state and who has brought his ministry, Samaritan’s Purse, to remote places like Eagle, Hooper Bay, Galena, Marshall, Nunapitchuk, and Togiak. Through Franklin, Alaskans have come to have close ties with Graham family.

The Samaritans organization rebuilt housing after floods, built churches and youth centers, and brought Christian love and prayer to many far-flung corners of Alaska.

Franklin Graham has traveled to Alaska nearly every summer with Operation Heal Our Patriots, providing faith-based marriage retreats for wounded warriors and their spouses in the Lake Clark retreat center that the organization built for that purpose.

Known world-over for its disaster recovery and rebuild services, Samaritan’s Purse is offspring of the Graham ministry begun by the Rev. Billy Graham some 70 years ago.

Franklin Graham in Togiak, Alaska. (Samaritan’s Purse photo)

Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin is in the process of arranging the final resting place for his father’s remains, which are in repose at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte for two days, where thousands of fellow Christians and his many admirers are paying their respects. The Rev. Graham will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday.

President Donald Trump ordered flags lowered to half-staff at all public buildings on the day of Graham’s interment.



Former Gov. Sean Parnell recalls meeting Billy Graham several years ago, when as governor he was an invited speaker at a Samaritan’s Purse conference for volunteers.

After the conference, the Parnells — Sean, Sandy, and their daughter Rachel — were asked to come to Billy Graham’s home, which was a modest, cabin-like structure on a beautiful site in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

They entered the home to find Dr. Graham, dressed in a suit and tie, sitting by the fire. He was in his early 90s, Gov. Parnell recalled, and he asked each of them about their lives, and their interests.

“He cared about each one of us as individuals. He was asking about our personal interests, what we enjoyed doing, asking for insights about the people of Alaska, asking about our spiritual life, our own life in Christ,” Parnell told Must Read Alaska.

“Probably the highlight was when he asked Rachel, who was 16 years old at the time, to sit next to him so he could talk with her. He was so focused on her and her interests, asking her about her life and what was important to her and what she wanted to be when she was an adult. And this from a man who had spoken personally — and in crowds — to millions of people in his lifetime. His willingness to engage with a 16-year-old about her life was extraordinarily special,” Parnell said.

“Later, when we were in our own cabin, I asked Rachel what she would remember most about her visit and she said something to the effect (and this she said to her own dad) ‘I’ve never been in the presence of such love before.’ It was being in the presence of God’s love through a man, a human. And for me that really sums it up. He came across as charismatic, but that came out of his own faith — that God so loved him, that He gave His only Son.”

Rachel had also asked Rev. Graham what he was most thankful for in his life.

“He spoke so highly of his wife Ruth who had passed away, and he mentioned how he was looking forward to seeing her again when he himself passed away. That stood out in the meeting —  his marriage to her and how he honored her with all of his words,” Parnell said.

“We were with Franklin and his sister Gigi, and both of them were extremely close and loving toward their father. So the love of his wife, and love among his family members, his love for Ruth. — those are memories I will cherish. And if God grants me 99 years, I want to finish my life and be known for loving others,” Parnell said.

Parnell’s former Deputy Chief of Staff Cindy Sims is now the executive assistant to Franklin Graham in Boone, N.C.


  1. If there is anyone who exudes the love of Christ in our corner of the world, it’s Gov. and Sandy Parnell. Thank you, Governor, for honoring this giant in our Christian faith by sharing your memories with us. What a thrill and an honor!

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