When Your Heroes Die

He would invariably wake me up on Saturdays, far too early by flicking on the lights to my room and bellowing, “Good morning, William! This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and do yard work in it!”

A breakfast of French toast and a morning of raking would soon follow.

That’s how my hero often woke me up when I was a guest in his home.

Do you have a hero? Is there someone in your life that selflessly invested time, wisdom, trust, and helped you grow into a leadership life you never knew was possible?

Billy Walker was a hero to me. And now he’s gone.

I could write a 10,000 word story about Billy Walker and still not scratch the surface of the myriad ways he impacted the lives of people around the world.

If you’d like a taste of what he meant and what his life was all about, listen to these stirring tributes from the memorial service where we celebrated his life. 

Billy Walker was a hero to me. And now he’s gone.

Make no mistake; I have been blessed with a wonderful father who loves me deeply. He prays for me and checks in on me and cheers me on every day. In a society where the absence of a father can be directly tied to the ills of our culture, I am thankful to the Lord for a father who has always been an important part of my life.

When it comes to Billy Walker, our relationship ranged from father-of-my-best-friends, to camp director/boss, to second father, to mentor, to summer pastor, to encourager, to ardent supporter. And I’m not alone in being able to compile a list like that. Countless others would say much the same thing.

That’s what made him so amazing – he never stopped giving.

No one who knew Billy Walker ever had a bigger cheerleader. He sincerely wanted you to do well, to live for the Lord and to succeed in whatever field you recalled. He mailed me newspaper clippings whenever he saw something that pertained to my career in broadcasting and golf.

If you ever had the chance to be introduced to an audience by Billy Walker, he would have you walking on air before you ever hit the stage because he wanted you to do well and feel welcome.

He would also love you through thick and thin. He loved you when you made poor, painful, stupid decisions. He listened. He never complained.
He never spoke poorly of another person in all the years I knew him, not publicly, not privately in the comfort of his own home.

He preached “speak evil of no man” and he practiced it.

Billy Walker was a hero to me. And now he’s gone.

Now what?

I know I’ll never become an evangelist in the formal sense, preaching at tent crusades around the country, seeing incredible numbers of people come to faith in Christ.

I know I’ll never pastor a church for several decades and become a faith leader in the community where that church is changing lives to this day.

I know I’ll never create a youth camp where young people will come for a week and have their lives changed for eternity.

I know I’ll never have thousands of former staff members from that camp look to me as a hero, knowing that while I’m not perfect, I loved them every step of the way.

So if I can’t do those things, what is it I’m to do, now that one of my heroes is gone?

The little things. We can all do the little things.

I can make it a point to not speak poorly of anyone for any reason, even if they deserve it.

I can try to encourage someone who is hurting. A note, a call, or a ridiculous joke that isn’t the least bit funny but makes them smile in a moment when they most need it.

I can listen to someone who hasn’t been listened to in a very long time.

I can make it very clear to someone who has messed up that there is nothing they can do that will cause me to turn my back on them…because Christ forgave me for so much more.

I can pay to send a kid to the camp where my life was changed and pray the same thing happens for that kid.

I can try, in whatever route I find, to make a difference in my church and community by being “in front, involved, enthused.”

Billy Walker was a hero to me. And now he’s gone. But he will never be forgotten.

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