George Beverly Shea died Tuesday at the age of 104. Many of you have never heard of him, I’m sure, but I grew up listening to him sing gospel hymns in his booming baritone when he accompanied Billy Graham on all his crusades. I even had the pleasure of hearing him in person when I was a teenager and attended one of Billy’s crusades in Ohio with my cousin, Cheryl.
My grandfather loved singing hymns, too, and had the most gorgeous deep baritone, just like George Beverly Shea. When I would tell him I thought he sounded just like Mr. Shea, his idol, my grandfather would laugh and tell me he was flattered, but he would never be able to sing like that. My grandfather was a humble man. Though he never would have bragged about his talent for singing, other people recognized it, and his church often had him sing solos in some of their musical productions. He was in his early eighties when he sang his last solo, “The longer I serve Him, the sweeter He grows.”
My grandfather, whom we called Daddy Bill, struggled nearly all his life, yet I never heard him complain or say a mean word about anyone. When he was a young man with two babies, he contracted tuberculosis and had to move his family from Kentucky to the Southwest to drier air in order to heal. He stayed in San Antonio for about a year before trying New Mexico and, finally, Arizona. It was a struggle to provide for his family, especially when the Depression hit. He tried his hand at opening a little restaurant, my mother told me. It didn’t last very long in the terrible economy, but my mother learned how to make the Coney Island chili sauce for hot dogs that I wish she’d shown me how to make before she died.
Daddy Bill did heal and return to Kentucky, but his health was always fragile because he had nearly lost one of his lungs to the disease. Later in his life he had several strokes which left him limping and using a cane and with a weak side. Again, I never heard him complain. He kept on smiling and kept on singing. He was such an inspiration to me that in sixth grade I wrote an essay about him on the topic of “My Hero” sponsored by the American Legion. I won, and when I showed him the essay, he cried. I still have that essay somewhere.
Though weak in body, my grandfather had a faith that made him strong. This post is not meant to be preachy. Many people find strength to live their lives from many sources. For my grandfather, it was from his Lord, and he loved to sing about Him. He particularly loved it when I would sing with him and we would harmonize. One of his favorite hymns was “It Is Well With My Soul,” which has a wonderful deep bass part in the chorus. The one I loved the most, though, was when he would sing “His Eye Is On the Sparrow.” I can still hear his voice in my head and in my heart.
This song and testimony from George Beverly Shea echoes my grandfather’s own view of his life. Though Daddy Bill never had much materially, he considered himself rich beyond measure.
Hearing about the death of George Beverly Shea made me think about my grandfather’s beautiful voice and his beautiful life.