Born in Rock Hill, South Carolina, the son of Presbyterian missionaries, Graham grew up in China. After graduating from Hampden-Sydney (Virginia) College (B.A., 1918) and serving one year in the U.S. Marine Corps, he married Louise Garrett and went as a Southern Presbyterian missionary to China. He served in Yencheng (Yangcheng) (1921-1927) and Chinchiang (Zhenjiang), Kiangsu (1929-1936), from where he carried out an itinerant ministry throughout north China. In 1936 he and his family returned to the United States, and in 1938 he left the Presbyterian Church over issues of liberalism.
From 1936 to 1950 Graham ministered in various capacities, including lecturing at Wheaton College, Illinois (1939-1940), which awarded him a D.D. in 1939. After a thwarted attempt to return to China in December 1941, he spent the period 1942-1950 ministering in Los Angeles. His first wife died in 1948. In 1950 he married Sarah Chapel and at the suggestion of Billy Graham (no relation), he went to Taiwan as an independent missionary and in 1955 founded the Chung Yuan College of Science and Engineering in Chung Li. In 1958 he established Christ’s College in Tanshui, near Taipei, serving as president until he retired in 1980 and remaining actively involved until his death. His wife, Sarah, having died, in 1979 he married Louise Hunter, a longtime friend and missionary widow from Japan. Graham was well known to thousands of Chinese and was highly respected for his exceptional command of Mandarin.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright (c) 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of The Gale Group; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.
- J. R. Graham, “Old China Hand,” Decision, July, 1974.
- Some anecdotal material appears in J. C. Pollock, A Foreign Devil in China (1971).