( ) Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
[ ] Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcription was made by Bob Shuster and Paul Bartow was completed in December 2013.
Collection 74, T60. Interview of Robert H. Spiro by Robert Shuster on May 17, 2010.
SHUSTER: This is Bob Shuster interviewing Robert H. Sprio for the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College. The interview took place on May 17th, 2010 over the phone for the Billy Graham Center Archives.
SPIRO: That’s fine. I must...you were so prompt and I appreciate that fact as a Navy man. I’ve got to be real prompt and be ahead of schedule. But I want to ask you...I know a congressman from Pennsylvania by your name, and I wonder if that’s your brother or your...
SHUSTER: Let’s see, is that Bud Shuster?
SHUSTER: No, we’re not related.
SPIRO: Uh-huh. I just wondered. He’s from...I noticed in my book that he was born in ‘61 in McKeesport, PA. He’s a Lutheran and has a MBA from American University and owns a car dealership. That’s all I know about him.
SHUSTER: Yeah, Mckeesport is in the other end of the state. My family is from the Philadelphia area.
SPIRO: Uh-huh. Well just the name is another...it’s not Jones or Smith . I thought that you might be...immediately related.
SHUSTER: No, no, not to the best of my knowledge.
SPIRO: Another quick question I wanted to ask you. I have a rather lovely photograph of Billy and me just after I conferred his degree upon him in 1972. And...
SHUSTER: This was at Jacksonville University?
SHUSTER: This was at Jacksonville University?
SPIRO: Yes. I conferred an honorary degree on him with the approval of the board of trustees. And he came, and we had a very nice visit. And I happened to have in my files a lot of such pictures of course. I entertained the president...four presidents and a variety of people. And Billy was a longtime, lifetime friend. And a man of integrity and importance and friendship. So we had him come, and he gave a nice speech. And as a consequence, he said to Gigi and her husband that the students were good students and admissible and we enjoyed having them at Jacksonville.
SHUSTER: And Gigi, of course, is Virginia Graham his daughter.
SPIRO: Yes. We called her Gigi when she was a child. I guess...I presumed (I haven’t seen her for many years) I presumed that name stuck with her as childhood names often do.
SHUSTER: Yes. So you mentioned that you have a photograph of you and Billy Graham together?
SHUSTER: You were saying that you have a photograph of you and Billy Graham?
SPIRO: Yes. An eight by ten. The one I have is mounted on the board. And a very nice...very nice picture that I treasure is on the wall in my house. But I just thought...afterthought after we talked that it might be something you would like to have in the...
SHUSTER: Yes. No, we would be glad to have that.
SPIRO: We...that was a night I think in 1972. It’s mounted on a board. What do you call that practice?
SPIRO: It’s not on th matboard, it’s on the wood. It’s mounted very nicely.
SHUSTER: It’s laminated?
SPIRO: Laminated. I think was the word I was seeking. Anyway, it’s on the board and in very good condition, and I just thought I would get a copy of it or just send the original to you.
SHUSTER: We would be happy to have it, sir.
SPIRO: Alright, I’ll try to get it. I’ll try to decide what to do to see if my sons...both my sons knew Billy and his family. We lived close together from 1957 to 1960 when I was the president of Blue Ridge across the valley from Montreat. And we kind of knew their acquaintance. That’s where we played so much golf together. Sorry for that interruption. I didn’t mean to interrupt your train of thought...
SHUSTER: No that’s quite alright.
SPIRO: ...but I have your questions here. And you probably have your modifications so why don’t...
SHUSTER: Sure, well I mean we can just...we’ll just talk about them. Some of them, you might have something to say. Others you might not. And we’ll.... So why don’t we start with when and where were you born?
SPIRO: I was born in Biltmore, the village of Biltmore which is part of the Biltmore Estate in South Asheville.
SHUSTER: In North Carolina.
SPIRO: Yes. There’s only one Asheville as far as I know [both laugh]. There’ Ashboroughs and what have you. But Asheville is the premier city in North Carolina. About 110 miles West of Charlotte. Of course, I didn’t know Billy in my childhood. He was here in Charlotte where I am now. And I was born and reared in Asheville. And Biltmore, which is now part of Asheville...the Biltmore Estate is there. The largest house in North America is the Biltmore Mansion. Built by Vanderbilt. George Vanderbilt. In the 1890s on 100,000 acres of land.
SHUSTER: Wow! And what year were you born?
SPIRO: December 5, 1920. Billy, I think, was two years older than I. Was he born in ‘18?
SHUSTER: 1918, yes.
SPIRO: At any event, I was born in Asheville (I keep saying Asheville because Biltmore is now...has now been annexed by Asheville). And it was a small village. My father was a Baptist minister there. And...I was reared in Asheville and went from there to Dubose Academy and then on to Wheaton where I met Billy.
SHUSTER: And what years were you at Wheaton?
SPIRO: I was there from ‘37 to ‘41. I was there I guess two years ahead of Billy.
SHUSTER: And why did you choose to go to Wheaton?
SPIRO: Well I went to Hampden Dubose Academy in Florida. Orlando, Florida. I think Billy later sent one of his children to the Academy. It was a Christian Academy run by a Presbyterian minister. And I went to Dubose Academy in Orlando, and three of my teachers there were Wheaton alumni. And they interested me in Wheaton as a place of academic excellence and a strong Christian identification. And my family (my parents and I) were fully in accord with it. Decided that’s where I wanted to go. And besides, I had never been in...you know North of Asheville, North Carolina. I was then in Orlando, and then I had an idea of going into a foreign land with people with strange accents [both laugh]. And Illinois was also appealing, I think.
SHUSTER: Well let me ask you about that. As you say, you came up to go to college in Wheaton from North Carolina, the first time you had ever been North of the Mason-Dixon line. What was it like to be a Tarheel at Wheaton at that time?
SPIRO: Well I had a wonderful time. I was sixteen years old when I went to Wheaton as a freshman. And there were several...there were a number...Wheaton bragged about having students from every state including Pennsylvania, your state, and all...most of all the states. And I think twenty or thirty foreign countries where missionaries sent their families to Wheaton. And our...I remember bonding with other Southerners from Georgia, North Carolina, and other southern states. And in my second year, I founded the Dixie club. The Dixie club consisted of Southerners who met once a week on Monday morning and had breakfast together in southern faire.
SHUSTER: Like hominy grits?
SPIRO: We imported grits and sausage and...had biscuits. And the dietician at Wheaton at the time (I remember her, but I’ve forgotten her name) was very cooperative. And we just had...it was not philosophical or anything else. It was just good fun and we were strangers among the heathen [Shuster laughs] and we had a good time together and integrated totally with the student body. By the time I was an officer in the Naiterrmain literary society and various other groups...officer in my class. And my senior year, I was president of the student Christian Council. And I read in a biography that I believe wasn’t Billy the president of the council in his senior year?
SHUSTER: That’s correct, yes.
SPIRO: I was by that time...I was in the Pacific at war aboard a destroyer. And didn’t know about Billy’s...you know just had no contact with him for those four years.
SPIRO: Well anyway...I enjoyed Wheaton and we Southerners (along with others) were received very well. And integrated completely I think with the student body. We were primarily there because we wanted a good education. We were evangelical Christians as we call them today. And we enjoyed Wheaton college. And profited by it.
SHUSTER: Were there a large number of Southerners at the college?
SPIRO: As I remember, there were twenty or thirty. Maybe forty. I don’t have a count. I had a list of the Southerners because I was the founder of the Dixie Club. I don’t know if it’s still going on, I hope it is!
SHUSTER: I...I’m afraid I don’t know either.
SPIRO: I know. I imagine the president does know. It was just social club formed...
SPIRO: I don’t think we even spoke of the war as the war of Northern Aggression which is a common phrase, you know, less frequently used, but always used in good humor that I know.
SHUSTER: Now...Billy in his autobiography that it was at Wheaton for the first time that he had...African Americans, blacks, as classmates . Do you recall any black students on campus when you were at Wheaton?
SPIRO: Yes, a few. I think...I can recall one. His name was a Scottish name like McGee. I’m not sure of the name, I’ve not seen him since. But my memory is that we had one in 1937, ‘38. One black student. We had students of different nationalities and races. I remember I was on the wrestling team and we had...the smallest man on the team was a very strong, young Hawaiian of Japanese descent. George Shiroma I think was his name. I saw him in a bulletin recently. He’s still living on Honolulu. But anyway, we had...my memory was that we had one Hispanic (so called, whatever they are) and I remember one black student. And there probably were others, maybe of both designations.
SHUSTER: Well, when and how did you first meet Billy Graham?
SPIRO: Well, I was there for two years before Billy arrived. He had attended as I recall Bob Jones College in Cleveland, Tennessee (which is now located in Greenboro, South Carolina I think). But he had attended Bob Jones College and I thin he had attended the Florida Bible Institute in Temple Terrace, Florida.
SHUSTER: That’s right.
SPIRO: Near Tampa. And he arrived on campus. And somehow...maybe in the freshman orientation (I usually had a role helping to orient freshmen on behalf of the admissions office). I was kind of public spirited in that way. And I think I met him early on in September of 1939.
SHUSTER: To help orient him to the campus?
SPIRO: On the campus. I didn’t know him before that. And he was a North Carolinian so we bonded as...Christians and as fellows that liked each other I think. And he was...I’m not even sure if...you asked me about the date - ‘39. My vague memory is that it was in my third year (the beginning of my third year) that he came in.
SHUSTER: No that’s right. He started college at Wheaton in the fall of 1940. He started in the fall of 1940, yeah. So that would have...you...let’s see. You were there from ‘37 to ‘41?
SPIRO: ‘41. I graduated in June of ‘41.
SHUSTER: Well he started campus in 1940. Fall of 1940.
SPIRO: I just remember meeting him and you know. He was a tall, skinny guy. And as I recall.... I was thinking the other day since you and I talked...that Billy was on...came out for the wrestling team. That seems improbable because he was tall and skinny and not particularly athletic. But my memory is that Billy came out. He didn’t play...didn’t wrestle on the team officially representing the college...on the wrestling team in the conference. But it seems to me that he was a tall, skinny...like 6'4 and 130 pounds. And he was kind of considered a spider. Long legs and arms, you know. And enthusiastic. And tried to wrestle and did wrestle.
SHUSTER: Right, well in his autobiography he says “When I went out for the wrestling team, probably about 160 pounds in class, I looked like a python on the mat. Two defeats in the inter-collegiate matches ended that career.”
SPIRO: I didn’t know that. I hadn’t read that. He said he looked like a python, huh?
SHUSTER: Right. Long and thin I guess.
SPIRO: My figure of speech was a spider [Shuster laughs] which is not far removed.
SHUSTER: And he said that after two defeats he quit the team. Is that...? Hello?
SPIRO: [Very faintly] Bob repeat that last sentence.
SHUSTER: Sure. He says “Two defeats in the inter-collegiate matches ended that career.”
SPIRO: That’s...that would fit my memory. I don’t recall that in detail. But that fits my memory. I’m glad that you could confirm that he did come out for wrestling as I thought I remembered.
SHUSTER: Did he join the Dixie club?
SPIRO: Yes. He was as I remembered...he was...we had no qualifications except origin in the south. And I think he came to breakfast with us often. And I remember...for some reason...maybe it was because of the dietician’s schedule...we met on Monday mornings for at least my two years...and I think it continued to go on into the wartime period after I had graduated.
SPIRO: We had...I remember pleasantly the Dixie club and the eating of grits and eggs and...I think sausage. I don’t think we had the...what’s the Philadelphia delicacy?
SPIRO: [Laughs]. I don’t think we ate any of that.
SHUSTER: But you had students from all over the south? Texas and Florida?
SPIRO: Yes. Florida and Georgia. I remember several South Carolinians and Alabamians. We at Wheaton had a fairly sizable contingent of students from the Southeast and the Southwest I think too. We had a good time and Billy as I remember was a member of that group.
SHUSTER: Now someone else...Helen Fesmire who was one of Lloyd Fesmire’s wife...who were friends of Billy’s had said that “When he first came to campus, he was a bit ostracized by other students because of his country clothes and his farm boots.” Do you recall anything of that?
SPIRO: None of that. As far as I was concerned, I was from Asheville. A city of 30,000. He was from the big city, Charlotte [both laugh]. Although his father was a dairy farmer, I understand on the outskirts of Charlotte then. It’s now an integral part of Charlotte. And it’s called the...south part that’s now a well and organized, upscale shopping and residential center. The city has grown miles beyond the family farm.
SHUSTER: When...you had said that you had met him when he came on in September when he came on campus?
SPIRO: Yeah, that’s my vague memory.
SPIRO: I couldn’t point to a day or an event.
SPIRO: I just remember meeting him early on and he was a southern boy and a..a intelligent, articulate fellow. And we became good friends. And I remember meeting Ruth when she came to campus too. She....
SHUSTER: When did she come to campus?
SPIRO: All the fellas remember...I think...I can speak...all them remembered her as very attractive, beautiful, charming long lady. Long, long tresses of dark brown hair . And I don’t know who she dated and things of that sort [laughs] but I remembered her well. And as I rember he and...she and Billy became...met and became friends early on. Didn’t she come in the same semester that he did?
SHUSTER: I’m not exactly sure. I think she came before he did, but she had to go home for a semester or for a year during that time I think.
SPIRO: As I recall, she came from China and as I recall, he was...her father was Nelson Bell a medical doctor I think in China. And was she born in China?
SHUSTER: She was born in China, yes.
SPIRO: Yeah, I thought she was born there. And had not been to the states a great deal if at all in the 1930s.
SHUSTER: Yeah that’s certainly true. She went to school in Korea . Did you have any classes with Billy?
SPIRO: I can’t recall any. You asked me that before I think in your notes that you sent me. The one that I think I had with Billy was with Dr. Alexander Grigolia.
SHUSTER: Oh really?
SPIRO: Who was quite a character on campus. A short, stocky fellow. We thought of him you know as a Russian immigrant and an anthropologist and we all enjoyed his classes. He had up in the front of the classroom I remember he had a skeleton. And the skeleton was rigged up somehow to a stand. And the skeleton was standing up, maybe five feet tall [laughs]. I think he told us this was a skeleton of a female. He had a name for her . A cute name like...something bones. I’ll think of it. But he taught and we all enjoyed him. Billy I think majored in anthropology, didn’t he?
SHUSTER: That’s correct, yes.
SPIRO: I majored in history. And I think we took some history classes and I know we took one or more anthropology classes together. But I don’t...I don’t have any particular memories, Bob, about being with him, sitting with him, or discussing...discussing anthropological or other matters with him.
SHUSTER: Well why don’t we talk about Dr. Grigolia for a while...for a couple minutes. You said he was kind of a character, what did you mean?
SPIRO: Well, he was...had a heavy accent. And in those days, we didn’t have many people of Russian.... He may not have been Russian. Maybe he was Polish. Do you know?
SHUSTER: No, I’m afraid I don’t.
SPIRO: I thought you might have run across that. We thought he was a Russian immigrant.
SHUSTER: No, you’re right. He was born in Russia. I’m looking at Dr. Graham’s autobiography.
SPIRO: That’s what I remember. He was born in Russia. I don’t know where he was educated.
SPIRO: Uh-huh, that’s not surprising. Russia at that time educated in a German university. Maybe...I can think of several where he might well have studied. Probably Heidelberg in that field of study.
SHUSTER: What kind of teacher was he?
SHUSTER: What kind of teacher?
SPIRO: Well, he was an interesting teacher. Lively. As I remember bounced around the room quite a good deal. That’s an exaggerated term. To say bounced around. But he moved around in his lectures.
SHUSTER: He was very energetic?
SPIRO: Very energetic. That’s a better...a better adjective to describe him. He...students liked him. None of us...maybe Billy did but I had no desire to major in the field. Didn’t know much about it. I think he may have been the only professor in that field at Wheaton at that time. But we liked him and it was an interesting course. And we were interested in Christianity of course, early Christianity. And as I recall, he sometimes related tales, stories, events. [pauses]
SPIRO: I want to come back to the name of that skeleton [both laugh]. Like Early Bones or Marley Bones [both laugh]. I’ll think of it.
SHUSTER: You.... How did he teach anthropology? What kind of themes was he teaching in anthropology? What...how did he approach the subject?
SPIRO: I don’t recall in any detail. I think I took one, maybe two courses from him. And I don’t...I can tell you more about some of the history and Bible courses. But the anthropology, I don’t have much memory of the course content. I think we had a textbook. I don’t know if he wrote it or not. I’d rather think not. But he may have written a textbook. And we were discussing the early origins of man. Whether he got into the evolution issue or not I don’t recall. He probably did.
SHUSTER: Anything else you want to add about him?
SPIRO: No. He was short of stature . Not fat, but fairly stocky. Bald headed as I remember. We commented about his very bald head. We thought he was an old man. He was probably in his forties. I don’t know how long he stayed at Wheaton . My life is divided into sectors and categories. And World War II is a dividing point. I finished Wheaton in June. The Japanese attacked in December of course . The war broke...we went to war with the Japanese and then immediately with the Germans and with the Italians. And I headed to war and that was a separating...dividing moment in my life. I guess it was for, you know, many of us.
SHUSTER: Sure, sure. Like the attack at Fort Sumter.
SPIRO: I knew nothing about the military service. We didn’t have ROTC [Reserve Office Training Corp] . And the 1930s while turbulent around the world (the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931 and [Adolf] Hitler took over [in Germany] in ‘33 and proceeded to annex Czechoslovakia and Austria and so on). Those things were happening and I’ve always had a lively interest in public affairs. Billy and I used to discuss those things. Hudson Armerding I remember even more, he majored in history. And we were good friends and discussed those things. I remember standing on June 16, 1941 and we were waiting for the graduation exercise to begin. We were standing outdoors on the...on the campus waiting to go proceed. And I was the president of the Student Christian Council. I led one file in. Hudson as president of the senior class led another one in. And there were two other men, young students, friends of ours. And we were discussing Hitler and Mussolini and...two days after that graduation was the invasion by Hitler of Russia. And...
SHUSTER: That’s right. June 22, yes.
SPIRO: Yeah. And we were...we graduated June 16. Not two days, but...
SHUSTER: Same week probably or very close.
SPIRO: But we were much...much concerned and not in the military. We weren’t threatened by the draft or anything of that sort. In fact, I was planning to be a minister and I never did register for the draft. I didn’t have to and I didn’t . But when the war broke out four months later, I marched down voluntarily and voluntarily joined the Navy.
SHUSTER: Do you recall from that...
SPIRO: And many of my class did the same . And several of my classmates went to Canada. Some graduates of 1940 went to Canada and enlisted in the RAF [Royal Air Force]. Canadian and RAF. But I had no temptation to do that. And I was graduation in June ‘41 so I didn’t join until December 27, twenty days after Pearl Harbor.
SHUSTER: Do you recall, you mention the conversation you had with Hudson Armerding and your other friends. Do you recall what you said? What you thought was going to be happening?
SPIRO: We were lamenting the...what we perceived to be the evils and the aggressions and the terrible things being done by Hitler. More than Mussolini. But Hitler in particular. We were history majors (Hudson and I both majored in history and took a lot of European history as well as American and world history). And we were just concerned about it. And it turned out that I joined the Navy in ‘41 and Hudson, who went on to Clark...I think to Clark University joined a year or two later. And we ended up together. Separate ships, but often in the same invasion fleets in the Pacific. Billy of course didn’t go that way. Hudson and I both planned to be ministers.
SHUSTER: Did you ever have an opportunity while you were a student at Wheaton to hear Billy preach?
SPIRO: You know, you asked me that and I think one of your questions does, and the answer is no. I don’t recall hearing Billy speak. I...attended church every Sunday as I think most of us did. My father was a Baptist minister. And Wheaton just had more Baptists than any other evangelical group and maybe more Presbyterians. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. But I went to church at the Bible Church sometimes and then to the local First Baptist church, which was not as congenial for Wheatonites at that time. Whether for theological or other reasons, I don’t know. And then frequently I would go in with a Gospel team (I guess that was mostly on Saturday nights) to the Pacific Garden Mission and other places where we went as student missionaries or Christian students seeking to help.
SPIRO: I don’t remember drug addicted or alcohol was considered the big evil at that time among us. But I do not recall hearing Billy speak. I think...didn’t he...wasn’t he a pastor of a church at Western Springs or something?
SHUSTER: After he graduated, yes. And starting with his junior year, he was preaching at the Union Gospel Tabernacle in downtown Wheaton. But that would have been after you graduated.
SPIRO: Yes, yt must have been. I don’t recall that at all. I don’t recall any...you know hearing Billy. He was...he was...I guess an ordained Baptist minister too. Baptists then and maybe now don’t require theological education as a prerequisite because each church is autonomous and ordain anybody that it wishes to ordain. And I think Billy had been ordained. I don’t know where. Where was he ordained? You...
SHUSTER: I don’t have that. I suspect it was probably in Florida.
SHUSTER: He had been preaching at the Tabernacle in Tampa, I know. He was assistant pastor there and he often preached there as well as other places.
SPIRO: Well I didn’t know that, but I’m glad to hear it. I don’t recall hearing him speak.
SHUSTER: But you had mentioned that you were friends and you often talked of course. What kind of things was he interested in? What kind of things did he talk about?
SPIRO: Well...I remember his...we talked you know...nostalgically we talked about our Southern...our families and our Southern roots. My father was a Southern minister and his father was a dairy farmer I think on the outskirts of Charlotte. But we...in those days, we didn’t travel like we do today. And I had never been to Charlotte and didn’t know any have any friends in Charlotte. And he I don’t believe had been to Asheville much, although we have all the major religious assemblies like Montreat and Ridgecrest, and the [Lake] Junaluska is a big Methodist assembly. And he may have gone to some of those with his father. Was the father Presbyterian?
SHUSTER: Yes, the family was Presbyterian.
SPIRO: I thought they were, yes. And Billy may have been Presbyterian, but my memory is that he was kind of a Southern Baptist as an ordained minister.
SHUSTER: Yes, that’s right. A member of the Southern Baptist denomination.
SPIRO: But I don’t recall any...I’m sorry I can’t give you any particular memories of that. I got better acquainted with Billy (reacquainted is a better term) you know after the war when I took a doctor’s degree in History. And Billy by that time was preaching nationally and I think the year I finished my PhD which was 1950 was the year that he kind of broke out into national prominence in Los Angeles, is that right?
SHUSTER: Well it’s very close. Los Angeles was in the fall of 1949 and 1950 he was at...the end of the year...end of 1949 he was in Boston. Yeah, that’s when he was really getting publicity in Time and Life Magazine.
SPIRO: Yeah, I would read about him and would remember well and favorably. But we had no contacts in that period, after the war and until about 1952 when I took my first appointment. I was a professor of history at Mississippi College which is the Baptist college and university of Mississippi. Much like Baylor is to Texas and much like Wake Forest is to North Carolina and Stetson to Florida and so on. And that’s when we got acquainted when I read in the papers that Billy was coming to town and holding a revival I think in the public pavilion or auditorium. I think that’s when...
SHUSTER: And we can...can we talk about that in a minute. But I wanted to ask you some other things about Wheaton first.
SHUSTER: Do you recall where he was living at the time that you knew him?
SPIRO: No I don’t. I lived...I lived with a professor on Howard Street, a professor of theology. Dr. J.J. Hoffman. Johann Jacob Hoffman. My roommates, there were three of us...four of us living in the house with Dr. Hoffman. I don’t know where Billy lived. We didn’t have a men’s dorm, you know?
SHUSTER: Oh really?
SPIRO: No. When I was at Wheaton, we had no men’s dorm. Some men lived on the...I believe on the top floor of Blanchard Hall. There were maybe five or ten rooms on the top floor of Blanchard. I worked as a waiter and a busboy in Williston Hall. And then while there, they built a new girls’ dorm . I don’t recall for sure, but I think it’s called North Hall or North Dorm.
SPIRO: But that’s where I worked as a waiter and a busboy. And a pot cleaner. My memory vaguely again (like I told you I thought I remembered Billy had gone out for wrestling and you confirmed that was true) I think Billy worked in the dormitory as a waiter some of the time.
SHUSTER: It could be. I don’t know about that but it’s certainly possible . I do know that there was another college student named John Streater who had a kind of a small trucking service.
SPIRO: Yes you mentioned that and I knew Johnny Streater quite well. He’s as I remember, seemed to be an older student. Probably like two or three years older than we. But Johnny was...I don’t recall where he was from.
SHUSTER: Do you recall anything about his...?
SPIRO: Did you run into that in your research?
SHUSTER: Where he was from?
SPIRO: I think he was a Southerner.
SHUSTER: It could be. I don’t have that in front of me. But do you recall anything about his trucking service?
SHUSTER: Do you recall anything about the trucking service that he ran?
SPIRO: No I don’t.
SHUSTER: Or about Graham working with him?
SPIRO: You said in your letter I think that Billy maybe worked...
SHUSTER: With him yeah.
SPIRO: ...with him in this business?
SPIRO: I don’t remember that, I had no contact with it. I worked in the food service as a waiter and a busboy and then my senior year, I was somehow got affiliated with the Chicago florist. A Sheffler florist. And I took orders for flowers, corsages for the different formal events in the spring when a college boy would buy for two dollars get a nice, big corsage for his girlfriend to go to one of the literary society banquets. And I got twenty percent of the gross and I sold between classes. And I think I sold to Billy. I don’t have any records of that [laughs].
SHUSTER: He mentions in his autobiography that the first student that he met when he arrived at Wheaton was...
SPIRO: Sorry I can’t hear you.
SHUSTER: Billy mentioned in his autobiography that the first student that he met when he arrived at Wheaton was Howard van Buren. Does that name ring a bell?
SPIRO: No it doesn’t.
SHUSTER: It was a student from Charlotte?
SHUSTER: Van Buren. Like the president.
SPIRO: Oh I do remember. I thought you said MacHuen. A name...a Scottish name that I know as well. But what was van Buren’s first name?
SPIRO: I remember him pretty well.
SHUSTER: What was he like? How would you describe him?
SPIRO: He was a very nice fella as I remember. A bit scholarly in the best sense of that word. A serious student like I guess I was and Billy was. Howard van Buren. We called him Howie. And was he from Charlotte?
SPIRO: I didn’t remember that. I do remember him. I can kind of visualize him. Is he still living?
SHUSTER: I’m afraid I don’t know. But what did he look like at that time?
SPIRO: Well as I recall, he was more or less standard height. Maybe 5'10, 5'11. Kind of husky. I don’t know if he was an athlete but he was a husky looking fellow. Very pleasant and quiet spoken. I didn’t know him well, but I do remember him. Howie van Buren. That’s right. Probably easy...I have the latest Wheaton alumni record. As of the publication of the book, we know who’s living and who’s dead.
SPIRO: Most members of my class, I’m afraid have gone. There’s a fellow named...another man at graduation that we were talking to was Eb Rosser [H. Edwin]. Eb turned out to be a Presbyterian minister and when...when we were lined up waiting for graduation to begin, Hudson Armerding and I and Ebby Rosser (who I think was a history major too I think) we were discussing Hitler. He was a third, and there was a fourth one. So David Roberts.
SHUSTER: David Robertson.
SPIRO: David Roberts was the fourth one. And he was the president of one of the classes. Or maybe he was the student...I think maybe he was the student body president.
SHUSTER: There was a Dave Roberts who was later on the staff here at the college. He was a special assistant to Professor Armerding. Maybe that’s the same man.
SPIRO: That’s the man.
SPIRO: David Roberts. His widow was Virginia something...Roberts. Was a dietician.
SHUSTER: Oh she was the one that helped you with the Dixie club?
SPIRO: Yes. That’s my...that’s my faint memory.
SHUSTER: Is there anything else you wanted to add about your memories of Billy Graham at Wheaton?
SPIRO: I wish there were. [Shuster laughs] But at Wheaton, I think I’ve exhausted it; I remember his coming out to wrestle. I was a light heavyweight and we didn’t wrestle in the same class. I remember he was 130 and you said he mentions 160 in his.... And of course he would be correct knowing his own weight. My memory was that he was very tall and very skinny at that time. But...I don’t...I knew him. I think he was in the Dixie Club. We bonded as North Carolinians. I’ll speak facetiously - North Carolinians in a foreign land among people with a foreign accent. [Shuster laughs] You know Billy has a distinctive voice and a very nice manner of speaking. And I jokingly like to refer to the fact that we North Carolinians are the only state...only representative of the only state that has no accent [Shuster laughs]. Well, have you heard of Edward R. Murrow?
SPIRO: Do you know where he’s from?
SHUSTER: I would guess North Carolina?
SPIRO: David Brinkley?
SHUSTER: Also North Carolina?
SPIRO: Charles Kuralt was from Wilmington. Those three men who became very famous as announcers and commentators were all North Carolinian. So that’s my evidence . I’ll say Billy Graham and Spiro are two others that...that are not accented. We speak the Queen’s English unadulterated [laughs] as it was intended.
SHUSTER: From the Queen City.
SPIRO: I’m going to comment that you speak so well, you must be one of us.
SHUSTER: Well thank you, thank you [both laugh]. And Charlotte is known as the Queen’s City, is it not?
SPIRO: The Queen’s city. It’s now a city of...it’s kind of a banking capitol of America. The Bank of America is headquartered here.
SPIRO: Wachovia [another bank]. Quite a number of banks headquartered in Charlotte. And of course there’s been a lot of reorganization of banking in the last five years...
SPIRO: ...as we both know. But Charlotte is a banking capitol.
SHUSTER: And to go even further South, you had mentioned that in 1952 you were in Jackson, Mississippi.
SHUSTER: When Billy...
SPIRO: I finished my PhD in May 1950. And my first appointment was at Mississippi College as an assistant professor of history. And I was there as a young buck, married with a...a young wife and two small children. They were at that time maybe six and two or something. And saw on the paper that Billy Graham was coming to town. And I’d read about him...about his adventures in Los Angeles and allegedly with [William Randolph] Hearst kind of push him along. And I hadn’t seen him or talked to him, but when he came to town, there was a notice in the newspaper that Christians were invited to participate in this...as...councillors at the civic auditorium (I think that’s where it was).
SHUSTER: It was at the Tiger Stadium.
SPIRO: It was where?
SHUSTER: Tiger Stadium.
SPIRO: All right. Anyway, wherever it was, I volunteered to help. And...did I send you a bulletin? I strangely found in my...I’m a historian and I save to much. Much too much. To my wife’s chagrin and my children’s [chuckles] chagrin. But I have letters, copies of letters I wrote in the 1950s and all kinds of papers that I’ve been trying to reform and get rid of most of them.
SHUSTER: Well if you want to get rid of them, we’d be happy to have them. The bulletin and any letters back and forth between you, we’d be happy to have for the archives.
SPIRO: You mean between Billy and me?
SPIRO: Well of course...I’d be happy, I would do that if I find such. But I have a bulletin published by the Billy Graham association. I don’t know whether it was BGEA or whatever. But I found a mimeograph piece of paper appropriately brown and so on dated 1950. I don’t know if it was ‘54, but you said to me it was ‘52.
SHUSTER: The meeting in Jackson was, yeah.
SHUSTER: Oh but you...
SPIRO: Not Jacksonville, but...
SHUSTER: Right. As it happened, he actually had a meeting in Jacksonville in that same year in April. But the meeting in Jackson, Mississippi was June to July, 1952.
SPIRO: Yes. I was not in Jacksonville until 1964. That’s when.... Later on, much later, I’d been a professor in three universities and I’d been asked to be the dean of a faculty and I did that for four years at Mercer University, the Baptist university of Georgia.
SHUSTER : Let me stop you just a second [lengthy pause as tape is flipped]. Just flipping the tape...flipping the tape over in my tape recorder.
SPIRO: Take your time.
SHUSTER: Oh, okay. It’s flipped over now. So we can continue.
SHUSTER: You were talking about Jackson in 1952 and you heard they were asking for councillors?
SPIRO: And I was a councillor in his campaign in 1952.
SHUSTER: What do you remember about that?
SPIRO: Nothing in...I remember going to hear him preach and participate in kind of counseling people who came forward. But I have no...no particular memory. That’s about sixty years ago. And I have no particular memory about any individual, but I talked with Billy a good deal . He was busy with more important things than talking with an old college friend. But we...I think we maybe had lunch together while he was in Jackson.
SHUSTER: What was it...
SPIRO: I don’t remember how long it was, a week long event or two weeks or whatever.
SHUSTER: It was a month actually.
SHUSTER: It was a month.
SPIRO: Was it? I didn’t know that. But I do remember seeing him and visiting with him...
SHUSTER: What was he like at that time?
SPIRO: ...I don’t recall whether Ruth was with him or not.
SHUSTER: Had he changed any at that time?
SPIRO: No. As I recall, he was still pleasant and outgoing and ebullient and well spoken. But I don’t recall any change. I’d fought a four year war, I had maybe changed some probably. And I had pursued the...you know a difficult program for my doctorate. And Billy in the meantime had gone his way and been doing so well as an evangelist. We both must have changed, but I don’t recall, Bob, any particular changes that I noted. He was friendly, he was open. And well spoken.
SHUSTER: Of course, you had heard him preach, I assume at the crusades...
SPIRO: I’m sorry?
SHUSTER: You heard him preach during the crusade?
SPIRO: Oh, I did. Yes.
SHUSTER: Do you recall any...that was probably the first time you heard him preach in person, right?
SPIRO: Yes. As I remember, I had never heard him preach until the Jackson, Mississippi event that you said lasted for a month. So I must have heard him.... I was not on vacation or leave from my teaching. And I taught at Mississippi College that was in the town of Clinton, seven miles west of downtown Jackson. And I would...I didn’t stay in Jackson. I went home to my family and I continued teaching. But I remember most nights when he continued speaking, I went to the [train in the background] location and tried to be of assistance.
SHUSTER: What [train] what do you recall about his sermons?
SPIRO: Only a general memory of strong and positive sermonizing about the basic essentials that he emphasized all his life. You know, come believe in Christ and accept him as your personal savior. But I have no particular memory of any given sermon. Billy never pretended to be a scholar (and he was not a scholar) but he...had such fervor and devotion to Christ. Kind of a continuing commitment that he made this tremendous impact. And I think he had a big impact on the city of Jackson. Which is the capitol of Mississippi and an important city. And I...vaguely remember the governor (I think governor Ross Barnett whose son was in one of my classes majoring in history in my department.) And I think Barnett was there.
SHUSTER: You were...
SPIRO: Do you recall...I vaguely recall but I’m not sure and I want to stand on it...that Billy expressed a desire for racial integration and improvement of relations in Jackson?
SHUSTER: I don’t know about that. I was going to ask you if the meetings were segregated.
SPIRO: I don’t remember. I do not recall whether it was or not. But I believe Billy...was already...you know thinking and moving in the direction of calling for...greater friendship and integration of the races. I think that was...I don’t think he made any big issue in Jackson . I don’t think he issued an ultimatum, you know. But I don’t recall any as such.
SHUSTER: But in his sermons, do you think he talked about racial friendship?
SPIRO: Yes and I was teaching along those same lines to the governor’s son among other people.
SHUSTER: You were a councillor of course, do you any people who came forward? What kind of people were coming forward at the meetings?
SPIRO: I don’t recall. Have to be...every word I want to be perfectly not only honest but explicit.
SPIRO: And I do not recall. I just remember doing that and renewing acquaintance with Billy. And it was a pleasant occasion in my life. And I was glad to do it, both for the sake of the Gospel and for the sake of Billy. We were not in the same class, but we were classmates a couple years at Wheaton.
SHUSTER: Anything else you want to add about the Jackson meetings?
SPIRO: No, I don’t recall anything else in particular that would be worthy of mentioning.
SHUSTER: And after that, you continued teaching as you mentioned at several colleges? Is that correct?
SHUSTER: After 1952, you taught history at several colleges, is that correct?
SPIRO: Yes, I taught at a total of five . I served seven years on the faculty of Mississippi College (which strangely is the oldest institution of education in the state). Older than the University of Mississippi, called Ole Miss. It was founded by the church in 1826 I think. Mississippi was a frontier state in the 1820s and 30s. And...
SHUSTER: Sure. And what point did you return to North Carolina as president of the college?
SPIRO: Well I taught there seven years until 1957. In which year I received an invitation from the directors of the Blue Ridge assembly. It’s a YMCA Christian Assembly across the valley about five miles from Montreat of all places. And Ridgecrest. About four or five miles from each of those large, southern Church meeting places. Ridgecrest being the Baptist and Montreat being the Presbyterian. My mother, who married my father (a Baptist minister) went to Montreat. Her family was Scottish Presbyterian from Eastern North Carolina (where by the thousands, Scots immigrated). Mother, whose name was Monroe, clan Monroe, she was in the first...group to go to Montreat. Strangely. Strangely in the sense that Billy and Ruth went there and I often went there . I often went to Ridgecrest where my father was once the executive director.
SHUSTER: And you went to the Blue Ridge assembly, is that...?
SPIRO: Yes, I did. I left academe and went to the Blue Ridge assembly and the established classes...academic classes in history and philosophy and religion at Blue Ridge assembly for which I was the president for three years.
SHUSTER: Now is this a summer conference or...?
SPIRO: It operated all the year, but it was mainly summer. It operated mainly from May until September. But then had conferences...had about twenty five conferences. Different church groups. The YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association] owned it and it was managed by the YMCA, the YMCAs of the Southeast. And from there, I was invited to be the professor and dean at Mercer University whose president and vice president and the friends knew me. And knew my work. I’ve never applied for any of these jobs. I’ve never applied for a job in my life except to be a waiter at Wheaton [Shuster laughs]. But you know in academe as well as in the ministry I guess, people hear about a man and say “Well, we need a man, and that man seems to fit our need.” And so they began conversations and sometimes conversations lead to decisions. And that happened to me at Mississippi College, it happened in...at Blue Ridge, it happened at Mercer, and then at Jacksonville . I never sought to be a president but they came to me and said “Come, we wa...want you to come visit with us. We’d like to talk with you about being our new president.”
SHUSTER: You’ve mentioned that when you were at Blue Ridge Assembly, you renewed your friendship with Billy Graham?
SPIRO: Yes, Billy was across the valley you know, five or six miles away. And when I went there, I think I was even encouraged to go because I knew Billy was near by.
SPIRO: And we exchanged letters and conversations. And through the year, increasingly thorough days at Jackson, Mississippi. Anyway, it was in a sense going home for me.
SPIRO: I was born and reared in Biltmore. And Asheville. And my mother had died, my father was still living. Still a pastor. And I had had classmates from grammar school and so on there. And so I was willing after conversations, I was willing to go and undertake the work there. And Billy and I renewed our acquaintance because we had been good friends back when before the war. And...and our wives met each other. Our children met each other. I remember one...during the summer of 1958, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey came to town to Asheville. And on the banks of the river, the French Broad River that flows through the town that is being used for various commercial purposes. The circus set up business and I remember telling Billy one day, I said “I know you’re going to be out of town next week,” or whatever it was. “I’d be glad to take all our children to the circus.” And Billy’s children were the ages of my children at that time, ten to fifteen, eighteen years old. Maybe one younger than that. Anyway, I filled up a car and took...I think I took six or seven children to the circus in Asheville fifteen miles away. And we had dinner with Billy and Ruth in their mountain home and they...I bought a nice old Victorian house in Black Mountain (which is the town serving both Montreat and...) Have you been there?
SHUSTER: Yes, yes.
SPIRO: So you know Black Mountain?
SPIRO: I bought a house on Route 70. Old Seventy. And Billy and Ruth came and had dinner with my wife, Suenell, and their family. And we didn’t get together weekly. Billy was busy and traveling. And I was traveling and had to do a lot of working innovatively for the assembly. We had board meetings around the South and.... But he was busy in his work and I was busy in mine. But we...I estimate we played golf thirty times. It may have been twenty five, it may have been forty. Doesn’t matter. But there’s a public course in Black Mountain. And the old country boy was a pro at the club. And we both knew him. And he would set up . And I’d call him...I’d say “Can you get Billy...would Billy like to play next Saturday at ten o’clock,” or something. But we’d play golf in...two golf courses . Biltmore Forest, right where I was born fifteen miles away in Asheville, and at the Public Course. Biltmore was a private club, and we played at the public course. And we played...I remember one time we played right after snow. We played when we had a chance, and Billy was very busy traveling the world. And I was less busy, but busy in my work. And I remember we played one time, just the two of us. Carried our own clubs, and it had snowed . And the snow in patches still covered much of the golf course. And we had a chance to play tennis and we were busy in other things (not tennis, golf) and so we went out and played golf on a Saturday morning. And the sun came out, snow on the ground, patches of snow, and we’d hit a drive that would disappear in a snowbank. And we’d go try to pull it out you know. And I never will forget, we both took off our shirts and tucked our shirts into our belts and played...bare from the waist up.
SHUSTER: Because it was so warm?
SPIRO: The snow was...that one event I think with the snow. It only happened once.
SHUSTER: What...do you recall the name of the pro at the public course?
SPIRO: No...I can recall it I think. But I don’t recall. He was quite a figure around the town and the county and in golf circles. He was a mountain man, very nice, intelligent. But a real mountain man. I’ll think of his name.
SHUSTER: What does a real mountain man mean?
SPIRO: [Laughing] well born and reared in Buncombe County. Probably in Black Mountain. Maybe Waynesville or something nearby.
SHUSTER: What...how would you describe Billy Graham as a golfer?
SPIRO: Well Billy Graham and I played a lot of golf. And we played about the same way. We...I had never had instruction in golf. And of course that makes a difference in a man’s swing. Are you a golfer?
SHUSTER: No, no I’m afraid not.
SPIRO: Well I’ve played golf for seventy years. All over the world . I’ve played forty-four times in Scotland at all the famous courses and not famous. But never was a very good golfer. And Billy played like I did. Hit some good shots and shots you would like to do over again. [Shuster laughs] I think we played about the same, shooting in the high eighties. We got in the mid to high eighties and the nineties. Both of us you know were most interested in what we thought the Lord had directed us to do. He with the evangelical...evangelistic ministry and I in education and related things. And so we...I didn’t take lessons, wish I had. He may have had some lessons. I think he did and I think he should have. [Shuster laughs] But we just played golf for the exercise and the comradery.
SHUSTER: Yeah, I remember reading once Reverend Graham joking that the only places...the only place where his prayers were not answered were on the golf course.
SPIRO: [Laughs] That’s well spoken.
SPIRO: And I don’t think predestination has anything to do with it.
SHUSTER: [Laughs] How would you describe him at that time?
SPIRO: Well he was...he and I were very congenial. On the golf course, we had the best chance to be together without interruption. And we would...we didn’t have caddies. I don’t think they had caddies at black mountain . I think we may have had a caddy at the country club. Called Biltmore Forest country club . It’s a kind of an old...distinguished country club. Distinguished I mean, it was...had a limited entourage of probably five hundred families . But we would play together and talk about religion. I like to tell that when I joined in the Navy as a young buck, I was...just finished Wheaton. And I was nineteen when I joined. I think I was twenty when I was on active duty for four years. And I went aboard ship and we had a rule on the ship that the officers (I was a young officer). And there were sixteen officers. And we had a.... There were twenty six officers. And the captain had a rule on the ship that in the mess hall (called the ward room where the officers ate) that we would never discuss three topics of possible argument and disagreement. We were going to be fighting a war for a long time. No discussion of religion, politics, or women. And after two weeks of solid silence at the table, we rescinded the rule. Nothing else to talk about, you know?
SPIRO: In that order. Women, politics, and religion [laughs].
SHUSTER: So you were saying when you were golfing, you often...
SPIRO: Billy and I...I don’t know if we talked about women, but I know we talked about politics. From time to time, he would call me from that period onward. And not annually, not quadrennially but he would call me and we would talk time to time about politics. And I wanted to tell you this, I’m glad it came up just now. I always advised him “Billy, for goodness sake, stay away from politics. Don’t endorse anybody. There’s so much evil and disharmony, dissent, bad feelings that can develop.” And I remember several times in particular that I’d advise him that just on the telephone. “Billy, for goodness sake, just stay away from political endorsement.” Because by that time, he was already well known for fraternizing with presidents. Which I thought was wonderful. I guess the first one, I don’t know whether he was closely familiar with Truman, but I guess following Truman with Eisenhower and beyond he...fraternized a good deal and became well known for advising and counseling the chief executive.
SHUSTER: So how did he respond when you...?
SPIRO: Well once or twice he was inclined feeling strongly about one man or the other. He felt... “What if I speak favorably for this one?” And my judgment as a friend, on the phone, informally, “Billy, don’t do that. That will hurt your ministry. And probably react against you.” And I urged him to stay away from it. And he did.
SHUSTER: Was that for recommending Eisenhower?
SPIRO: Well I’d rather not...the answer to that is no. But through the years, once or twice, he was inclined to endorse somebody. And I shared...generally shared feelings with him. But I advised...what I do doesn’t really matter. But what you do as more of a public figure and evangelist and advisor, that will cut you off sometimes if the wrong man gets elected. By wrong, I meant the one we’d prefer not, just to...be friends and friendly and...ministerial counselor to presidents and governors and anybody who came for the sake of the Gospel. And I think he...I think he...Ithink he did that.
SHUSTER: Did he ever talk about his...
SPIRO: Maybe, I’m not claiming that I had any great influence. I think I had some as a college classmate and long term friend, but I’m glad he didn’t.
SHUSTER: Did he ever talk about his crusades that were going on at the time? Hello?
SPIRO: Yes. I have the feeling that it’s probably my hearing.
SHUSTER: Did he ever talk about his crusades that were going on at the time.
SPIRO: Yes, on occasion he would mention them.
SHUSTER: I mean I know he was at New York in ‘57 and San Francisco in ‘58.
SPIRO: No I don’t recall.
SHUSTER: In 1960 he was on a tour of Africa.
SPIRO: Uh-huh. And of course I vaguely remember tours in many other places too.
SPIRO: Including Asia.
SHUSTER: Did he ever talk about any of those with you?
SPIRO: I vaguely remember, yes. Just in a historical sense, he would say “I’m going to” in the sense of looking ahead and telling me sometimes where he had been. And I’d ask questions sometimes about...I was doing a good deal of traveling. My doctorate is from the University of Edinburgh in European History and I go to Scotland usually every year. And I’ve lectured in places like Seoul, Korea and Edinburgh, Scotland. And I’ve traveled a good deal. Much less than Billy. And I advised...I monitored the president election in Togo in Africa one time. And in...a place in Montenegro in the Balkan Peninsula. I took ten congressmen and we monitored the election to see...try to see if it were honest.
SHUSTER: Was it?
SPIRO: In our judgment, in our report was yes. Togo, no. I’m going to ask you today’s trivial question even though you’re recording this. Where is Togo?
SHUSTER: It’s in Africa.
SPIRO: That’s correct. It’s a big continent, where in Africa?
SHUSTER: I believe it’s the ...it’s a Western African country isn’t it?
SPIRO: It’s on the Guinea coast of West Africa. You’re right. You win a prize.
SPIRO: Most people will say “It’s in the Caribbean.”
SHUSTER: Thinking about Trinidad I guess.
SPIRO: And some people say it’s in Polynesia.
SHUSTER: Tonga. Thinking of Tonga.
SPIRO: That’s right. You’re...you’re a bright young fellow.
SHUSTER: Well not that young and not that bright. Well...
SPIRO: Well anyway, I traveled a great deal, but much less than Billy. And for other reasons than his travel to Russia and all the other places he went. But...did he ever hold a meeting in Edinburgh or Glasgow?
SHUSTER: Yes, he had. In 1955 there were meetings in Scotland and some after that as well.
SPIRO: Isn’t that the capitol in Edinburgh?
SHUSTER: Well, let me see. He probably held meetings, at least rallies, one day rallies in all the major cities. But I’m just looking it up here. Yeah he was in Glasgow and he held a rally in Edinburgh and Aberdeen and Inverness. But the main meetings were in Glasgow.
SPIRO: Yes. That’s a bigger city.
SHUSTER: When you were...sure. Did he talk about how he wanted his ministry to develop or things the BGEA were doing or plans for his work?
SPIRO: I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear that.
SHUSTER: Did he talk about how he hoped his ministry would develop or...plans for the future for the BGEA?
SPIRO: I don’t think so. I don’t recall such conversations.
SHUSTER: Anything else you wanted to add about those years from ‘58 to ‘60 when you were at Blue Ridge?
SPIRO: Well, we...our children got acquainted. And one time I took them to the circus. He was...out of town or something. And I mentioned the fact that we had dinners in each other’s homes . You know, not weekly. Two or three times a year as I recall. And we became...our friendship developed and our wives became good friends and respected each other. And our children, I think, enjoyed each other.
SHUSTER: I’m sorry, go ahead.
SPIRO: And we played golf together and had many conversations about religion and politics and what have you. But I can’t give you anything further that would be significant.
SHUSTER: You have mentioned that in 1972 when you were president of Jacksonville University, you conferred an honorary degree on him. Can you tell me about that?
SPIRO: Well yes. I don’t recall where he was in the early ‘70s. But I knew Grady Wilson and some of his...coworkers. And I don’t recall how I contacted him. But I contacted Billy, talked to the board of trustees of the university as we discussed honorary degrees. And I mentioned my long friendship with Billy. And I think it would be an awfully nice thing for the board. For the faculty to have him on the campus and conferred an honorary degree. And everybody agreed. So I contacted Billy. And we set a time in his calendar when he could do it. And he came to Jacksonville and we entertained him and had a nice time with him. Ruth did not come with him or children, but Gigi and her husband...was his name Tchividian?
SPIRO: That’s just the...
SHUSTER: Steven Tchividian.
SPIRO: They came and studied at Jacksonville. And Billy called me one day and said that his son in law wanted to...I believe study psychology but for some reason mentioned Marquette University . I’m speaking from memory, but I’m sure it was Marquette which is a Roman Catholic university, and I wondered about his going to Marquette up in Wisconsin, not that there was anything wrong with it, but why Marquette? That was my question. But Billy didn’t make that decision. I think that for some reason his son in law did.
SHUSTER: So he was calling to ask you advise about Marquette?
SPIRO: I gave advice and I contacted Marquette and recommended Tchividian. Didn’t he go there?
SHUSTER: I don’t know.
SPIRO: Yes. What was his first name?
SPIRO: Steven Tchividian.
SHUSTER: Were they students when you gave Dr. Graham his degree?
SPIRO: I think so. It may have been her graduation or his. I’m not even sure of that.
SHUSTER: But you think it was ‘72?
SHUSTER: Do you recall the day?
SPIRO: No, but I can look it up.
SHUSTER: What did...did Graham give a speech at the graduation?
SPIRO: Oh yes. He gave the address.
SHUSTER: Do you recall anything about that?
SPIRO: He gave the commencement address. I’m sure it’s recorded in the newspaper. The Florida Times Union is the...Jacksonville as you know is the largest city in Florida. And they have a big newspaper called the Florida Times Union. And the speech...pictures of Billy and his...speech I’m sure. I do not have any copies handy. They’re in my files as president of the university.
SPIRO: But I have a lot of files. I left all the official files there. As a historian I wanted people to have them.
SHUSTER: Absolutely. Do you recall anything about his speech just in your memory?
SPIRO: No I don’t. I think it was just kind of a boilerplate...a nice speech about the.... I think he adverted to education and complemented the university.
SPIRO: I think it was a nice...as I remember a nice graduation address. You and I might both agree sounded like Billy Graham. Doesn’t have to be, but I do not recall any. The university would have had programs. We printed a beautiful program for each . We held it outdoors on the science green. And there were four or five thousand people there. And Billy and I together shook hands with all the graduates. Five or six hundred.
SHUSTER: And you were at Jacksonville until 1979 is that right?
SPIRO: Yes, I was there for fifteen years. I’m the longest serving president of that university. You may happen to know the average tenure of a college president in this country [laughs].
SHUSTER: No I don’t.
SPIRO: Four years.
SHUSTER: Just long enough to get your undergraduate degree.
SPIRO: [Laughs] Sometimes it’s two.
SPIRO: More likely it’s five or six or seven. Fifteen is an unusually long. And of course, especially in the past [alarm beeps] men have served in the...you know twenty or twenty five years.
SHUSTER: And where did you go after? Did you retire then?
SPIRO: No, I was fifty nine years old and I had known the governor of Georgia. A fellow named Jimmy Carter. And I had him at the university . I had Lyndon B. Johnson there and had Bob Burns and Jack Benny and Bob Hope. And Aaron Copeland, probably the most famous classical composer of...he was my guest. I made a point of bringing in important and interesting men and women to speak. And sometimes the commencement, sometimes the convocations as we call them. And Billy Graham was one in that long series that I had. And Billy is one of the most illustrious and nicest. But I had...I had Gerald Ford. He also sent his son Jack to study at Jacksonville as a consequence of our friendship. I knew him when he was the minority leader of the House. And then before he became president. But anyway, we had about 140 or 150 people in science, economics, politics, religion, various history, secretary generals of the United Nations, and who was the long time conductor of the Boston Pops? Fiedler!
SHUSTER: Fiedler yes. Arthur Fiedler
SPIRO: And I had him for eleven years. He would come and conduct the university symphony. And he was good friends of mine and the dean. The dean of fine arts. A very nice lady named Kenny . But anyway, Billy came in that series and we were delighted to have him. He made a.... And of course as a Christian, I was eager to have him come and say his thing to our student body, the graduating classes, and the public in Jacksonville. And he, you know, he did very well. He aquitted himself well as a gentleman and a scholar and evangelist.
SHUSTER: Well, is there anything else you’d like to add for our interview this morning?
SPIRO: I don’t think so. Let me.... I’ve got your notes in front of me. And I wrote notes on your notes.
SPIRO: And let me see quickly.
SPIRO: I’ve been talking and trying to answer your questions and respond to your thoughts. Just.... Number twenty five, you said “What would you say your strongest memories of the Jackson meetings,” I think I’ve expressed that. I’m sorry I can’t give you details but...
SHUSTER: Oh no, that’s fine.
SPIRO: And I don’t have notes of that. It was... You ask if it was segregated and I’m going to have to say I think it was. And you ask “How did race relations affect...” and I think I responded to that.
SPIRO: [Pauses] The last question, you said “How would you summarize your own lie...” I’m teasing you now.
SHUSTER: Oh is that what I said? [Laughs]. That should have been “life”.
SPIRO: [Chuckles] “...and ministry since graduating.” I’d planned to be a minister. My father was. I planned to be a minister. And was really dedicated from the time I was an early teenager. And I was lay preacher at the Baptist church when I was in my teens. And applied for admission to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. That happened to be the largest and one of the most notable Southern Baptist. Forty years later, I was on the board of directors of that seminary and it was the largest seminary in the world between 1986 and 1978. But when the war ended (you know I went to war, volunteering to go to war) and when it was all over, I decided that my calling (and I felt it was a calling) was in the field of higher education. I liked history. I was a history major at Wheaton, read history. I remember reading Van Dyke’s history of Benjamin Franklin, his biography aboard ship.
SHUSTER: Oh yes.
SPIRO: Carl Van Doren wrote it. I don’t know how I remember that but I do. But anyway, I decided to go to graduate school and become a professor and see what was beyond that. All in view of serving the Lord in higher education. And I tried to do that, you know. Devoted myself to it for all these many years.
SHUSTER: And where did you go after Jacksonville University?
SPIRO: At Jimmy Carter’s invitation I went to Washington. I’d been president fifteen years and my wife and I decided that was long enough. You know, we loved it, we loved the university, our best friends were there on the board of trustees and the faculty and in town. I’ve been an avid tennis player for eighty years. And I played tennis, one local tennis tournament when I was president there, in the senior division over forty five and so on. But Jimmy Carter asked me to be secretary of the Navy. And by that time I was an admiral. I had been promoted from enlisted status at the beginning to senior admiral in the reserve forces in 1971. And this was ‘79. And I had to retire after seven years as an admiral because that’s the legal limit. And Jimmy Carter was a Navy man, a graduate of the [Naval] Academy. So I resigned and went to Washington. And three months later, I was undersecretary of the Army. All because of politics. [Laughs] I was looking forward to being in the Navy as the civilian head of the Navy. But there were three other men campaigning for it, and I had not campaigned for it. I was invited and accepted. It couldn’t be a promise, you have to be confirmed by the Senate.
SPIRO: And when the smoke cleared from the political activity (of which I sadly was not involved directly) I was undersecretary (that’s number two) in the Army. And I had the most wonderful two and a half years (the last part of his term) in the Army. Traveled all over the world. Went to Germany in a helicopter. Not to Germany in a helicopter, but in a helicopter all over Germany and other places . And so I stayed with Jimmy Carter in that row. He left office. I was to be secretary on his re-election. But as they say, something happened on the way to the Forum.
SPIRO: And he was not re-elected. I resigned like the entire administration . And then I became national director of all the reserve officers of the United States. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Public Health, seven services. And I did that during most of the 1980s. Then I became...went into business. I established two small marketing firms, became chairman of several foundations. I’m still chairman of the American Security Council Foundation. I’m chairman emeritus now. But anyway, I did all these things and was active in my church. And tried to represent Christ and American democratic ideals to the best of my ability.
SHUSTER: Well I want to thank you very much for sharing this morning and for...
SPIRO: Well I didn’t...I’m sorry we talked so long.
SHUSTER: Oh, I’m not at all! I appreciate your willing[ness] to grant me this much time.
SPIRO: And I’ve been looking at the clock, and it looks like it’s 23 minutes to 11.
SHUSTER: Yeah, I think about ninety minutes, we spent.
SPIRO: I’m expecting a call this morning from Edinburgh. They’ve...published an article I wrote about some of my military.... This is the sixty fifth anniversary of the battle of Okinawa.
SHUSTER: In which you were a participant?
SPIRO: That’s the last battle of the war in the Pacific. And that’s the battle in which I lost my ship to a kamikaze. And I’ve been writing a good deal of editorials and articles about the battle of Okinawa.
SHUSTER: Well I...
SPIRO: It began...began on Easter Sunday on 1945. And they designated it as “L” day. In the phonetic alphabet, that’s love. And here’s Easter. And here’s war. And the biggest, most vicious battle of the war. Like D-Day in France, this was L-Day in Okinawa.
SHUSTER: Well I want to thank you...
SPIRO: I suspect I’m a little older than you are. Did you go to Wheaton by the way?
SHUSTER: Yes. I was class of ‘73.
SHUSTER: I was in the class of ‘73.
SPIRO: Oh I see. So you were a new graduate?
SHUSTER: Oh, just about, yeah. [Both laugh].
SPIRO: I was in the class, as you know, of ‘41.
SHUSTER: Indeed. A great class. Well, I want to thank you again for being willing to spend all this time and share your memories.
SPIRO: Well, thanks.
SHUSTER: We appreciate it and it’ll be a wonderful addition to the archives.
SPIRO: It’s nice to get acquainted with you by the telephone. And I invite you when you come to Charlotte to be my guest at dinner or lunch or whatever.
SHUSTER: Thank you.
END OF TAPE