Who is Graham Lacey? | Part 1
I was one of five children. My father was a tall man with a moustache, a great presence, and the gentlest man you could meet. My mother was significantly shorter, very quiet, a strong disciplinarian, immersed in the Word of God (though compounded with legalism), very shy, and in many ways very insecure. Her father was a tyrannical man who was extremely strict and legalistic, so she had a difficult childhood.
Growing up during the war, she was a senior nurse and saw active duty in days when you didn't just have a day off and a day on—you were on as long as you could breathe and stand. She had a knowledge of the Word of God and an ability to quote it and enjoy it second to none, and that's a heritage that I am most thankful for.
Growing up, there was not a Sunday that I would not have been at the morning meeting, then at Sunday school in the afternoon, and then the evening service. Once we were 10 years old we would also attend the open-air meeting and then there would be a midweek meeting on a Thursday night that once we were 11 we were expected to attend until we left home. So the Word of God was a staple diet in my life.
It was my older brother, Adrian, who led me to Christ when I was 13 years of age. I had woken up one morning and Adrian, who was a chronic asthmatic and so would breathe very heavily, was silent. And I couldn't hear my father, whose snoring was worse than a foghorn! I got out of bed and decided that Jesus had come back again and I was left behind! So I walked from my bedroom across the landing toward my parents’ room. As I did, to my huge relief, I heard my brother Adrian's voice saying, “Gray, are you all right?”
I walked into the bedroom where the voice came from (Adrian was sleeping in a different room that night) and he turned the side table light on and said, “Why are you crying?” I was so relieved and said, “Adrian, I thought Jesus had come and I was left behind.” He got out of bed, sat down, and said, “You need never ever think about that again. Why don't you give your life to Christ now?” He led me in a prayer to receive Christ as Savior and Lord and showed me such grace and love. I can remember it like it was yesterday. So that was the beginning of my faith journey.
I was not hugely excited about education or anything scholastic or academic and at age 14 had a nervous breakdown that kept me out of all education and activity for over a year. It was very tough because I was an active person and there I was in circumstances foreign to me. But it was during the recovery of that time that I started to come to a greater understanding of the truth that Christ loved me and accepted me. My mother was so demanding that nothing was ever good enough, nothing was ever acceptable. She was a perfectionist. I planned as a result of what I went through that I would leave home as soon as I was able to—and did so when I was 15.
A Young Entrepreneur
I went into business. I invented a washable wallpaper remover! In those days, if you had wallpaper in your kitchen, so that it didn't melt away or disfigure because of all of the heat and atmospheric changes that went on in kitchens, people caught on to this brand new idea of having wallpaper that was washable. I sold that business for a significant sum of money as a young teenager, which gave me a bigger appetite for business. The next thing was paint! I realised there was a lot more profit in paint than there was in wallpaper.
I had worked in a hardware store and one day a gentleman came in and asked for Graham Lacey. He was directed to where I was and he said to me, “Young man, I've got a bone to pick with you.” I'd never heard that expression before and I thought, my word I'm in very serious trouble. I said, “What do you mean?” He replied, “Since you've been working here my wife's housekeeping budget has tripled! She told me you could send sell sand to camels and igloos to eskimos. I wish you could sell paint.” “Oh,” I said, “I could sell anything!” He said, “Well what I really need is 10,000 gallons of paint sold per year.” I thought to myself, that's a huge amount, but I'll do it.
So I got on the train and went to London. I had looked up in the Financial Times who the richest people were and I would telephone and make an appointment. I would turn up and nine times out of ten I'd be sitting in reception and the businessman would arrive and say, “There's some chap coming to see me shortly.” The receptionist would nod in my direction, indicating that I was here, and he would say, “Excuse me, how old are you?” “I'm 15 but I'll be 16 next year,” I would reply.
I remember one occasion when I met Lord Fraser. After I had spent 20 minutes with him, he said, “Young man, honour God on holy days. For every hour you work take an hour of leisure. And keep your word and you'll be very successful.” Without exception, these men that I met, who could hardly believe they had ended up meeting someone who was younger than their own children, gave me an opportunity to let them know that I was motivated by a faith in Christ. They were uncomfortable with that, but I wasn't, because I had not known anything different.
Losing Loved Ones
Life took a very tough turn for me because my brother Adrian, who I loved more than life itself, died. It was a crisis I couldn't exaggerate, because he'd always been there for me. He had gone to live in the Bahamas in the hope that the cleaner air would extend his life. Sadly, it was too late. One week before he died, Adrian came over to see me. He reached into his jacket and pulled out a box. He said, “Gray, I have something to tell you. I don’t want you to get upset. I'm going to heaven very soon—I feel that the Holy Spirit has shown me my work here on Earth is done.” He continued, “There's a tape here. I want you to promise me you won't listen to it until my funeral. When I am buried and everybody comes home to the family I want you to play it.”
When he died, I flew back to England to the family home and after the funeral we gathered in the drawing room. I told my parents about the tape with the message from Adrian. It was like hearing from heaven. He said, “As you're listening to this I'm in the presence of my Saviour, and what could be better! I am sorry for you all that I'm not there but I am thankful to God that through Christ's finished work I am with Him.” Then he gave a message to each member of our family. It was an extraordinary experience.
From then on I realised that I had to stand on my own two feet, spiritually, and provide for my family. Life was made even more difficult four years later when at only 53 years of age my father died. He had come over to Belfast in Northern Ireland for surgery. It was a routine operation by the number one surgeon in that field and the operation was a success. My father, who was aware I was due to go to New York for a board meeting, insisted that I went as the surgery was successful and everything was fine.
So I flew to New York and had hardly gotten into bed before I got a phone call from my mother from the hospital to say, “Your father has become dangerously ill. Please return.” I got up and I took the first flight from New York to Belfast and was taken into the room, where I could see something terrible had gone wrong. It turned out that swabs had left been left behind where the surgery took place and septicemia took a grip of him. He was dead in 24 hours. That was a very life-changing experience on multiple levels.
An International Businessman
After I sold out of the paint business, I went to Northern Ireland where my beloved uncle, Professor David Gooding, was the professor of classics at Queen’s University. While I was there, I started an airline called “Air Ulster” which provided feeder traffic to the American market. I also built the first enclosed shopping mall in Northern Ireland. That time was the most spiritually rich for me in terms of the Word, both because of my uncle and because of an evangelist named Derek Bingham. He and I would preach every Sunday somewhere in Northern Ireland.
While I was in Northern Ireland, President Nixon sent Billy Graham on a fact-finding mission and I was asked if I would look after Dr. Graham and take him to meet the leaders of the IRA and their Protestant equivalents. We had those meetings and Billy was surprised that they were so accommodating, but then he found out that the reason was that if I disclosed anything compromising to them, they'd take me out! And they weren't worried about Billy because he would be back in America.
After my time in Northern Ireland, I moved to London, then to New York. By the time I was 17, I had become a multi-millionaire and was chairman of the board of four public companies on the London Stock Exchange and two in New York. People ask how I managed to accomplish all of this and I think it was as simple as this—I didn't have anything to lose. I was young, I wasn't married, I was making very good money, and I didn't need to do deals but I couldn't help doing them.
My great ambition all my life had been to live and work in America. I remember my nanny sending me to see my parents in the drawing room, having complained that I was speaking in front of a mirror with an American accent, which my parents thought was quite disgusting and not the reason they were having me educated! But America was attractive to me, largely because the Gospel, faith, and evangelism—things that were precious to me—were everywhere.
I was privileged to know Dr. Billy Graham at such a young age and to know him for his lifetime. I also had an unusual relationship with President Nixon. He would forget about the time change and call me at ten past two in the morning in London. I could tell it was the President because he'd often call me when he was in his limousine going from one place to another.
One day he said to me, “I want to ask you a question, Graham.” I said, “Go ahead, Mr. President.” He said, “Did you have any bad school reports?” I laughed and said, “Mr. President, all my school reports were bad!” He thought that was terribly funny and said, “Well, you've been a great friend to me and, as you know, I have announced that I'm resigning as President of the United States because of the matters that I've had to deal with. I'm going to arrange for the U.S embassy security to bring you personally a special thank you from me, and I hope you'll keep in touch with me.” I said, “Mr. President, you don't need to do anything for me. That's more than kind.” He said, “No, this means a lot to me.”
True to his word, two or three days later a military officer from the United States embassy turned up and handed me a box. In it was a letter signed by President Nixon of his resignation as President of the United States of America. That was his worst school report!
My Certain Hope
My wife, Susan, and I were introduced to each other by Dr. RT Kendall, who was minister of Westminster Chapel for 25 years. Susan had been a member for some years of Dr John Stott's church, All Souls, in London. I had interchanged between those two churches because of a personal relationship with both Dr. Stott and Dr. Kendall. My faith was always of great importance to me. I don't say that for any other reason other than it was my certain hope, it was where I got my peace and my joy, and it was where I got my satisfaction.
I had many opportunities to meet with heads of state from over 40 countries around the world, and I had decided that I would use my knowledge of the Word of God and of the Gospel and never fail to share it with anybody—no matter how royal or how presidential or how powerful they were.
To be continued.