Editors’ note: As we approach our fiftieth anniversary, in February 2023, we will, every week, highlight an important story from our past and offer some perspective on it.

William Martin was at his home near Rice University one day when Bill Broyles, a founding editor of Texas Monthly, came by. “He told me that he and Michael [Levy] were going to start a magazine about Texas. And I thought, ‘That’s precious,’ ” Martin said on the phone recently. “ ‘Could be a good magazine,’ but I didn’t know how long it would last.”

At the time, Martin was a budding magazine writer and a professor at Rice, where he studied the sociology of religion. “I started preaching when I was fourteen,” he said, in fundamentalist churches in Devine, Texas. As he got older, though, he became more interested in the ways others preach.

In 1978, Broyles came back to Martin with an idea to profile Billy Graham, perhaps the most successful American preacher in history. “It was a relatively easy assignment,” Martin said. He was well familiar with Graham. Broyles edited the piece with a “light touch.” Drafts were passed back and forth between Houston and Austin by mail, and when it came time to look at the galleys—proofs of the magazine in the harried run-up to the publishing deadline—they were sent to Houston by Greyhound. At the station, Martin would approve them and send them back on the next bus.

The article garnered an appreciative note from the pastor, but that was it. “I expected that my study of Billy Graham had ended,” wrote Martin in his preface to A Prophet with Honor: The Billy Graham Story. But in 1985, Martin received a letter from Graham asking him to write the preacher’s biography. Over the next five years, Martin accompanied and researched Graham, producing what he says is “the most significant scholarly work I have done in my career.”

“I had no idea I would still be thinking or writing about Billy Graham forty-four years later,” Martin said. He has been providing his expertise on Graham for decades, including for a 2021 PBS documentary about Graham as part of the American Experience series.

These days, Martin is still at Rice, where he sometimes reminisces about his beginnings at Texas Monthly: “It was exhilarating, the early years.” He remembers late nights at parties held by publisher Mike Levy, where Asleep at the Wheel would play, and the time Levy took the magazine to an Austin show of the Ringling Brothers Circus. “We talk about how much fun it was,” he said, “to be in the ground floor of something that was really good.”