By age 68, the Rev. Billy Graham had advised presidents, preached to millions, and built an international ministry that persuaded legions of the faithful to follow the way of a Christian savior. Graham was also feeling the urgency of a man approaching his 70s.
As the renowned evangelist sat before a crowd of 20,000 youths at a missionary conference in Urbana, Ill., he prepared to deliver the convention's final speech in 1987. But he changed his mind. He asked a younger colleague, the Rev. Tony Campolo, then a 52-year-old evangelical leader from Eastern University in St. Davids, to give the speech instead.
"He leaned over to me and said: 'I'm getting old. It's time for me to surrender that spot to another generation. I want you to do it,' " recalled Campolo, an activist and a professor emeritus at Eastern.
Campolo took the podium and preached a fiery message encouraging those who had gathered to consider becoming missionaries — a moment about which he reminisced Wednesday after Graham's death at 99 in Montreat, N.C.
Clergy throughout the Philadelphia area remembered the Southern Baptist minister as an expert preacher of the Gospel, a dedicated evangelist who remained focused on saving souls, and a presidential counselor who eschewed politics.
"I wish more evangelicals held true to that," said Shane Claiborne, a cofounder with Campolo of Red Letter Christians, a nondenominational movement that opposes the incursion of politics into faith — from the right or the left.
"Some of my evangelical friends talk more about Trump than Jesus," Claiborne said, "and you would never accuse Billy Graham of that."
But Graham did take a stand on social issues such as race and poverty, said the Rev. K. Marshall Williams Sr., senior pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, one of 5,000 predominantly African American congregations affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.
Williams said Graham should be remembered for tearing down ropes that separated black and white attendees at one of the evangelist's signature crusades in Chattanooga, Tenn., during the 1950s.
"He took a lot of heat for that" and other efforts to combat racism, said Williams, immediate past president of the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said Graham's ministry inspired millions across denominational lines.
"Billy Graham navigated a century of turbulent conflict and change with the message of the Gospel and a zeal that made him one of the great Christian presences in American history," Chaput said in a statement.
But the Rev. Alyn Waller, senior pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, said he wished Graham had done more to speak out about the evils of racism and segregation.
An admirer of Graham who attended his crusades as a youngster growing up in Cleveland, Waller said: "I appreciate his impact, but my critique would be that he didn't use his platform as much as he could for reconciliation." A result of that, Waller said, is the divisive and overtly political ministry of Graham's son Franklin.
Billy Graham wrestled with controversy in the early 1970s when secretly recorded conversations revealed that Graham had agreed with President Richard Nixon when he said that the media were controlled by Jews. Graham said "this stranglehold must be broken or the country's going down the drain."
"In a time of deep division and rising anti-Semitism, it's vital that we all, Jews and non-Jews, call out hateful words and sentiments," said Rabbi Joshua Waxman, president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia. Graham's 1972 comments "fall into that category, but it's also important to mention that he came to realize that as well and that he apologized sincerely," said Waxman, of Or Hadash, a Reconstructionist congregation in Fort Washington.
Graham apologized during a crusade in 2002. He had earlier staged the large-scale evangelical meetings to Philadelphia in 1961 and 1992.
At the five-day evangelical meeting in the early 1990s, Reggie White, then an all-star defensive end for the Philadelphia Eagles, made a tearful announcement that his fellow Eagle Jerome Brown had died in a car accident.
White, who died in 2004 and was also a minister, had worked with the Graham organization on projects as a college student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, said his widow, Sara Copeland White, who now lives in North Carolina, Graham's home state.