Imagine needing a note from the Rev. Billy Graham to get back into your college dorm.
Or Graham turning to you and saying, “Let me borrow your ballcap.”
For the Rev. Forrest Williams, 91, of Janesville, those memories are a part of his life history.
Williams attended the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the 1940s, when Graham was president there.
“I remember he was just eight years older than me,” Williams said. “He was the youngest college president in the country.”
Graham, who died Wednesday at age 99, would go on from the University of Northwestern to become the best known and most admired evangelist of the past century. He was a friend and adviser to several U.S. presidents, and he was often asked for words of wisdom during national crises, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“He was really a great guy,” Williams said in an interview. “Everybody liked him.”
Someone once referred to Graham as a “16-piston personality,” and that about summed it up, Williams said.
Williams participated in student government and got to know Graham that way. At the time, the University of Northwestern was a small college with only about 1,000 students.
Graham called Williams by his college nickname, “Jiggs.”
Williams also was part of the cheerleading squad in college. During halftime at a basketball game, Graham approached Williams and said, “Jiggs, why don’t you get a couple of guys together and we’ll play basketball later?”
After the gym and stands emptied out, the guys took the court with the college president.
“He was a pretty good athlete,” Williams said of Graham.
They played until midnight that night. It was past curfew, so Graham had to write an excuse note to get back Williams back into his dorm.
Williams has photos of Graham from that era. In one, Graham is speaking to the Preacher Boys Club while Williams sits on the stage behind him, smiling.
In another, Graham is sitting on the lawn, a baseball cap tilted over his face.
“Nobody would know it, but that’s my baseball cap,” Williams said. “He came up to me at a school picnic and asked to borrow it. I guess he didn’t want to get a sunburn.”
After graduating in 1950, Williams took a job at the college.
Graham left Northwestern in 1952 to spend more time on his evangelical work, which came to be known as the Billy Graham Crusades.
“I remember the last thing he said to me,” Williams said. “He stuck his head in my office and said, ‘Jiggs, I thought I told you to keep your desk clean.’”
Williams eventually went on his own “crusade” and became a pastor at a church in Racine. In later years, he served as interim pastor at Bethel Baptist in Janesville and at a church in Rockford, Illinois.