Billy Graham Center

Memorial to Walter H. Smyth, 1912-2003

1964, from PHOTO FILE: Smyth, Walter H.,

On Saturday, November 1st, Walter Smyth, a senior executive in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's (BGEA) crusade ministry, passed away. Smyth joined the BGEA in the early 1950s after having served as a pastor, associate of evangelist Percy Crawford (leave this page to see the Crawford collection description or exhibit), and Youth for Christ vice president and Philadelphia director. He was the key figure in the administration of the BGEA's International Ministries & North American Ministries between 1965 and 1987, and was also chairman of the Amsterdam '83 and Amsterdam '86 International Conferences for Itinerant Evangelists before his retirement in 1987. In 1983 a scholarship fund for furloughing missionaries attending the Wheaton College Graduate School was established in honor of Smyth and his wife Ethel. You can read more biographical information about Smyth or the description of Archives Collection 17 that contains Smyth's files in his capacity of directing the BGEA's domestic and international crusades.

While you browse you can listen to the recording (34 minutes) of Smyth's report during the School of Evangelism at the time of the Atlantic Crusade in October 1979. Smyth talks about the opportunities and accom-plishments he has seen in the BGEA's crusade ministry around the world.

from PHOTO FILE: BGEA Schools of Evangelism
Smyth addressing participants in the 1970 Knoxville School of Evangelism

The excerpts below, interspersed with photos from Smyth's career, are taken from an oral history interview (Collection 141, Box 14, Folder 57) with Smyth conducted by Lois Ferm on May 12, 1976, in Seattle, Washington, during the Pacific Northwest Crusade.

from PHOTO FILE: Smith, Oswald J.
Smyth (far right) with evangelist Percy Crawford (left), Bob Cook (YFC president from 1948-1957), and Oswald Smith (pastor of The People's Church in Toronto), during a 1949 meeting in Philadelphia. Smyth was the Philadelphia area director for YFC.

FERM: Now, Walter, you've known Billy a long time. Your relationship and friendship with him goes back to the days of Youth for Christ in the forties.

SMYTH: Back in the very early 40s, but prior to Youth for Christ.

FERM: Prior to Youth for Christ! I didn't know that.

SMYTH: Because, you see, I had rallies in Philadelphia before Youth for Christ began, at the Philadelphia Youth Center, like Alan Forbes in Buffalo and Roger Mullsberry and a few men like that. So when Torrey Johnson got the vision for Youth for Christ he called together men who were having youth rallies around America, in 1945, I believe it was, for a convention, in Winona Lake, Indiana, after some preliminary investigation, etc., and as a result of all this I became their first Eastern regional vice president of Youth for Christ International. Billy Graham became our first evangelist. So this was our first contact. I brought Billy to Philadelphia the first time he'd ever preached there and tried to book him on a Sunday in order to help pay the freight. I couldn't find a church that would take him because they didn't know who Billy Graham was. My comment that he was an up-and-coming young evangelist didn't carry too much weight. We laugh about that today. So we were together much during those days. Both in international area of Youth for Christ and the local East Coast area Billy was with us. For instance for five or six years at our conference in Ocean City, New Jersey, where we put on a conference similar to the Winona Lake Conference for the eastern part of the contry. In fact, he was with us until about 1950.

from PHOTO FILE: Smyth, Walter H.
Wife Ethel, oldest son Walter Robert and Walter, 1950. The Smyths are wearing staff badges for YFC's 5th annual convention in Ocean City.

Smyth (center) with Dan Piatt (left) and an crusade staffperson Alan Davies surveying assorted crusade materials for use during the 1961 North of England Crusade in Manchester, England.
from PHOTO FILE: BGEA North of England Crusade, Manchester, England, 1961

[intervening discussion omitted]

SMYTH: Billy said to me, "Walter, I need you in New York." And I was called into New York becuse of some problems they had there during the days of preparation and was put in charge of that Crusade [1957], of group reservations, which is one of the most unique experiences I've had in all of my experiences with the Association, because we set up a little office and Marty Haymaker, Mr. [Willis] Haymaker's daughter, helped me. And from the moment that office opened in the morning until it closed late at night a dozen telephones never stopped ringing, with people from all over metropolitan New York calling in for reservations. And that crusade, as you know, went on instead of a few weeks to three months. It never stopped. It just never stopped. And Leighton had come in to handle another phase of the work. Charlie Riggs was brought in then for another phase of the work. But there again, even in those early days, we were conscious that instead of promoting something, we were trying to keep up with what God was doing.

from PHOTO FILE: BGEA Southern California Crusade, Los Angeles, 1963
Smyth (center) with local crusade representative and BIll Brown (right) preparing for the 1963 Southern California Crusade at the Los Angeles Memorial Colesium.

[intervening discussion omitted]

SMYTH: We had a great crusade, of course, at the Cow Palace [San Francisco Crusade in 1958]. That area was really moved. One unusual little church was down in Redwood City. The pastor is now in Minneapolis at Minnehaha Academy, Rev. Wilbur Westerdahl. Wilbur and his wife and family and Ethel and I became very close during the crusade. He decided to test what I was saying with the way to prepare for a crusade. They did everything, including running busses and setting up a little booth Sunday mornings for people to get delegation tickets, etc. And they had prayer groups; they had visitation plans and they had the whole works. It was a small church of 150 members--a Covenant Church, Redwood City Covenant. Right after San Francisco I went to Australia [for the 1958-1959 Australia and New Zealand Crusades] and a year later came back and stopped in San Francisco and called Wilbur. He said, "Walter, one of the most wonderful things has just happened." He said, "We've just taken in our 150th new member since the Crusade, in a year. We've doubled our membership." And you know, the thing that thrilled that pastor most was not that the crusade had accomplished this but his people had accomplished it because of their involvement in the crusade.

from PHOTO FILE: BGEA Republic of China Crusade, 1975
Meeting of BGEA executive and unidentified national church leaders during the 1975 Republic of China Crusade. (left to right: unidentified, unidentified, Billy Graham, Smyth, Henry Holley, unidentified in hallway, Grady Wilson, unidentified, unidentified)

[intervening discussion omitted]

FERM: Do any others [crusades] of them particularly stand out in your memory?

SMYTH: Yes, there's so many of them I can't go into detail. But let me speak of South Africa, for instance. We went there and were told that you will not get people to integrate themselves. Even if you say the seating will be integrated, they will segregate themselves anyway. Just the opposite happened. The people sat and totally intermingled. And it was a revelation. Then the other thing that was a revelation was that we lived in the hotel with these ministrers, sat in the same dining room, which meant nothing to us but everything to them. We swam in the same swimming pool at the hotel. This one black minister, I'll never forget him, stood with me in the lobby of the hotel with tears in his eyes and said, "Brother Walter, I can't believe that we've come to this point." When you realize the oppression and the segregation they've lived under this was something. The same thing happened at the invitation. Blacks counseling whites and whites counseling blacks and they were all together. So that was unusual. The most remarkable crusade I think we've ever had, of course, was Seoul, Korea.

FERM: The largest gathering Christendom, wasn't it?

SMYTH: The largest gathering. I said to Billy that day, "I can't believe my eyes. I've never seen a million people before." He said, "Nobody else has either." You know, it was so huge and so tremendous it just looked like waves of people. Some of them were a mile from the speaker.

from PHOTO FILE: BGEA North of England Crusade, Manchester, England, 1961
BGEA team traveling at the time of the 1961 North of England Cruasde in Manchester, England (left to right: Cliff Barrows, Smyth, Tedd Smith, Don Hustad, Leighton Ford, Dan Piatt, George Beverly Shea, Calvin Thielman.

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Last Revised: 11/24/03
Last Revised: 1/5/05
Expiration: indefinite

Wheaton College 2005