LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - Billy Graham had an almost forgotten connection with one East Texas city. Turns out, he had a close connection with LeTourneau University.
Graham's ministry might not have been quite as successful if it hadn't been for a little help from Longview.
"You know, I think it's hard to really measure the impact that Billy Graham has had upon, not only the American evangelical Christianity, but worldwide," says Stephen Mason, Le Tourneau University provost and vice president of academic affairs.
Graham was on the board of trustees at LeTourneau for 15 years, and his son Franklin attended school there. But there was an even deeper connection.
Early on in his ministry, Graham experienced some financial difficulties, and turned to a familiar face in Longview: R.G LeTourneau.
"Billy Graham was struggling a bit with the finances of it, and he tapped R.G. on the shoulder and he responded with a large check at that time," Mason says.
The pair had become friends years earlier.
"In 1936 R.G. was preaching in a small church in Tampa, Florida, and Billy Graham was on staff there. He and R.G. LeTourneau had a really strong bond early on. They forged a friendship. Billy was really admired for his personal integrity. He was sort of the same person in and out of season, and had a real gift of putting aside differences," Stephen says.
Graham was a huge supporter of faith-based education.
"He definitely believed in Christian higher education. I would say there's no more important figure in the 20th century for the spread of the gospel. He's made an impression on LeTourneau University, and we are trying as a university to carry on his legacy," says Mason.
Photos of Billy Graham and R.G Letourneau still hang in the schools museum wing.
Governor Greg Abbott has ordered the state's flags to fly at half-staff in Graham's memory.