2018 John R. Mott Award Recipient
has spent a lifetime traveling the world, sharing Christ’s love. But wherever his faith took him, he returned home to the love of his family, and to the institution he has embraced for 50 years, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte. He helped launch the YMCA Community Prayer Breakfast, coached youth basketball and cheered on his two sons, and continues to spread the Y’s message with a sweetness that makes him a treasure – and the recipient of the 2018 John R. Mott Award. “Leighton is something, isn’t he?” says Jim Morgan, the retired CEO of Krispy Kreme, a Y Trustee and longtime friend of Ford. “He finds the good in everything. He is a positive, optimistic individual who has done so much good all over the world.”
Leighton has preached in 40 countries, first with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and for years on his own. He recently published a book of his paintings and poetry, “Places of the Heart,” reflecting on his life’s journeys. He is married to Jean Ford, a wonderful Bible teacher and Billy’s kid sister. In recent years, Leighton has focused on mentoring emerging young leaders around the world and affirming the inclusive spirit that distinguishes the Y: Its doors are open to men and women and Christians and others, lifting up Christ while extending a hand to people of all cultures, class and color.
“The Y is unapologetic but understanding,” Leighton says. “It’s a place of friendship, fellowship and opportunity for involvement.”
With the help of the late Tom Dooley and others, Leighton helped start the Y’s prayer breakfast in 1987. He remembers one of his early messages – What is urgent? What is important? – and how it challenged us to reexamine our priorities. The breakfast has grown to become a community staple, typically drawing more than 2,000 attendees.But more than his accomplishments, Leighton’s life speaks to us. He has endured a heart attack, prostate cancer and the death of his son, Sandy, in 1981 at the age of 21. Yet Leighton’s gentlegrace has carried him through. He is, as his friend Jim Morgan says, “a bright spot.”
You might have seen his light shining over the years at the Dowd YMCA. Leighton would work up a sweat on the elliptical machine, then head to the big, round table in the lobby to order that day’s special from the cafe, and sit down to talk with the good soul beside him.
That’s this year’s Mott Award winner, serving the cause of Christ one encounter at a time.