As word of George Beverly Shea’s death reached visitors at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C., some remarked that the heavenly chorus had just gained a booming, baritone voice.
“There won’t be a need for a microphone in heaven when he steps up,” said Library visitor Richard Elkins, who drove all the way from San Antonio, Texas, with his wife, Annette, to visit the Charlotte attraction.
When they learned of Mr. Shea’s death, they knew their time at the Library would be particularly special; it would bring back memories of hearing Mr. Shea’s deep, melodic voice more than a decade ago.
“We were counselors at one of the Crusades in San Antonio,” said Richard Elkins. “George Beverly Shea sang that night, and it echoed throughout the Alamodome.”
“He had such a beautiful heart,” said Annette Elkins. “When he sang, you could just feel the Spirit of God.”
An original member of the Billy Graham Crusade team and one of Mr. Graham’s closest friends, Mr. Shea served the Lord with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and made his mark on the world of Gospel music.
Mr. Shea began singing at Billy Graham Crusades in 1947 and never looked back. For more than 60 years, Mr. Shea, Mr. Graham, and music director Cliff Barrows served as the heart of the Crusade team, traveling the world to share the love of Jesus with millions.
The continuous travel was difficult at times for three dedicated husbands and fathers who spent so many weeks away from their families. Mr. Graham’s granddaughter, Cissie Graham Lynch, who knew Mr. Shea as “Uncle Bev,” says he was a great comfort to her grandfather on the road, because he knew how to make him laugh.
“He had such a great sense of humor,” said Lynch. “I think it was so important for my grandfather to have him around as he traveled. He was always so joyful.”
Lynch says that while her family will miss “Uncle Bev” dearly, his passing is something to be celebrated.
“This morning as I woke up to the news, I realized there weren’t too many tears to shed, because it’s such a celebration of life,” said Lynch. “George Beverly Shea set an example we should follow, and that was obeying the Lord when the Lord called him to serve.”
Franklin Graham also remarked on Mr. Shea’s joyful, devoted spirit.
The Billy Graham Library will run the George Beverly Shea exhibit, beginning April 18 through May 15. Admission is free.
“Even though Bev was 10 years older than my father, he never acted his age,” said Franklin Graham. “He was absolute fun to be with. Bev was one of the most gracious and unassuming men I have known. He was always encouraging and supportive, a man of deep faith and strong commitment to Jesus Christ.”
Shea was like family to the Grahams, none of whom will miss him more than Billy Graham himself.
“George Beverly Shea was one of my closest friends for nearly 70 years, and has been one of the dearest friends my wife, Ruth, and I have ever had,” Mr. Graham said in a statement following Mr. Shea's passing. “Bev was one of the most humble and greatest Christians I have ever known.”
Even those who never met Mr. Shea could capture a sense of his humble spirit by watching him sing the great hymns on television time and again.
“We grew up watching him,” said Leonard and Therry May, a Prosperty, S.C., couple who visited the Billy Graham Library on Wednesday.
“He’s certainly a true example of a Christian, and someone who shared his gifts with the world,” said Therry May.
Throughout the day, Library visitors from across the U.S. and Mr. Shea’s birth country of Canada shared memories of their favorite Gospel singer. Thousands more paid their respects online, via social media and a special memorial page for Mr. Shea.
Mr. Graham says he “would still rather hear Bev Shea sing than anyone else in the world.” He, along with so many others, are looking forward to hearing his dear friend’s voice once again.
“I have lost one of the best friends I have ever had, but he and I look forward to seeing each other in heaven relatively soon.”