By Sherrie Norris
The death on Wednesday, February 21, of world-renowned evangelist Billy Graham, known to millions as “America’s pastor,” has left many in mourning as his passing reflects the end of an era.
At the age of 99, Graham took his last breath in his Montreat home, just a short drive from the High Country, and from where his impact reached far and wide.
Countless people came to know Jesus Christ as their personal savior through Graham’s crusades spanning over six decades.
His reputation as a humble man and a true servant of God with a great concern for the spiritual wellbeing of humanity was one that stood the test of time; his character, as one who “walked the walk and talked the talk,” remained unblemished throughout his lifetime.
As news of his death infiltrated local, state and national media and spread quickly throughout social media, the finality of Graham’s ministry drew the attention of every level of society – from the streets of Boone to those of England and everywhere in between and beyond.
Many of us were quick to add a comment here or there in his memory, and of how he had touched our lives.
We remember growing up in homes where televisions were tuned into his crusades, and for just a few moments, all was right with the world.
The familiar words to the great hymn, “Just As I Am,” ended every one of Graham’s sermons, as he gave the altar call and hundreds, if not thousands, always responded.
Many High Country residents remember, too, his appearance at Grandfather Mountain in August, 1962 for the 38th Annual Singing on the Mountain, the only time in the event’s history that the date was changed from its longstanding last Sunday in June, to accommodate Graham’s schedule.
History tells us that he drew the largest crowd ever to the mountain, with traffic backed up for miles in every direction as those hungry to hear the word and to meet the great man of God were attempting to reach MacRae Meadows. Those who made it to the top never forgot the awe-inspiring experience.
Few evangelists will ever be regarded in the same esteem as Graham was in life and as he is being remembered and honored in death.
William Franklin Graham Jr. was born on Nov. 7, 1918 and raised on the family dairy farm in Charlotte. He is survived by his sister, Jean Ford; his five children—Gigi, Anne, Ruth, Franklin and Ned; 19 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.
On Thursday afternoon, Graham’s body was brought from an Asheville funeral home to the nearby Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove.
In a Facebook post, his son Franklin Graham shared, “His simple plywood casket, like my mother’s, was hand built by convicted murderers at the Angola Prison in Louisiana about twelve years ago and seems to suit him. We have a Bible with him in the casket, and the casket is directly behind a pulpit. We felt this was symbolic since he stood behind a pulpit most of his life preaching the Gospel. Billy Graham preached about Heaven, wrote books about Heaven—now he is in Heaven. His faith has become sight.”
Information provided by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association indicates that the beloved Graham will be honored throughout the coming week in various settings, which include the following:
A motorcade will depart the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina shortly before noon, on Saturday, Feb. 24, making its way to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte around 3 p.m.
On Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 26-27, Graham will lie in repose inside the Graham Family Homeplace, located on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library. His casket will remain closed.
The lie in repose period is open to the public and will run from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day. This schedule may be adjusted if necessary.
No on-site parking will be available to the public during the period of lie in repose. All public parking will be accommodated at the nearby Operation Christmas Child Processing Center at 7100 Forest Point Blvd. and at the Charlotte Business Valet, Lot 2 at 5613 Wilkinson Blvd.
Complimentary shuttles will run continually from these lots to and from the Graham Family Homeplace, with the last shuttle departing 30 minutes before the public lie in repose closes.
According to various media outlets, Graham’s body will be flown to Washington, DC, where it will lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda from Feb. 28 – March 1.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a letter to Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, formally asking for his approval of this rare honor.
The tradition of lying in honor (in the case of private citizens) and lying in state (for members of the government) dates back to 1852. Since then, only 31 individuals, including 11 U.S. presidents, have been chosen to be honored in such a way.
Upon his casket’s arrival, Ryan and McConnell will hold a bicameral service honoring the life of the late Southern Baptist minister and adviser to a dozen presidents.
Graham will become the 32nd overall, and only the fourth private citizen to receive this distinction. He will join a legendary list that includes Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Rosa Parks.
His body will be returned to Charlotte for a private funeral service in front of the Billy Graham Library on Friday, March 2, adhering to his “explicit intent” that his funeral service will reflect and reinforce the gospel message he preached for decades.
“He preached one message for more than 60 years—a very simple message of the gospel, Jesus Christ,” spokesperson Mark DeMoss said at a press conference on Wednesday.
President Donald Trump along with hundreds of other prominent figures are scheduled to attend Graham’s funeral.
All living former presidents have also been invited to attend.
Following the funeral service, Graham will be buried beside his wife, Ruth, at the foot of the cross-shaped brick walkway in the Prayer Garden, on the northeast side of the Billy Graham Library. Ruth Graham died June 14, 2007, at age 87.
In an interview with CNN during a New York Crusade late in his ministry, Billy Graham was asked how he wanted to be remembered.
He answered, “That I was faithful to the message that He gave and faithful to the calling that He gave me to go into the world and preach the Gospel. That’s how I’d like to be remembered.”
For more information, visit billygraham.org.