During her childhood in Mississippi in the 1930s and 1940s, Jane Holmes Dixon could hardly imagine that she would one day be ordained a priest or serve as a bishop—let alone the Episcopal bishop of Washington, titular head of the diocese that has the National Cathedral at its official seat. Raised into a devout Presbyterian household, she became an ardently committed Christian at the age of 15 in Memphis during a “crusade” preached by the Rev. Billy Graham. Years later, when she officiated at the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance at the Cathedral in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11, 2001, she would meet Billy Graham himself.
“It was quite wonderful to be able to tell him [my story],” she recalled in a 2002 interview with radio host Diane Rehm. “He looked at me and he said, ‘You know I’ve had a lot of people tell me about the impact I’ve had on their life, but I’ve never had anyone tell me that they’ve become a bishop.’ [After the service I wanted] to be sure that he was all right, and so I said to him, ‘Dr. Graham, may I give you a hug?’ and he put his arms around me, and he said, ‘You can be my bishop any time.’ It was really a full circle from my beginning as a young woman making an affirmation of faith in a public way to have this opportunity.”
Dixon remained an outspoken leader whose last official roles at the Cathedral included the blessing of the aids Memorial Quilt panels from South Africa. She also remained a thoughtful preacher regarding the inclusiveness of the Gospel and the gift of the Incarnation, making her sudden death on Christmas Day 2012 all the more bittersweet. “Like many,” as Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde noted when announcing her death, “I consider myself blessed to count Jane Dixon as a friend and mentor. She paved the way for us; may we walk on in her spirit.”