Ex-presidents, friends, family pay respects to Graham

Associated Press

Charlotte, N.C. – Former President Bill Clinton visited the Rev. Billy Graham’s boyhood home in North Carolina on Tuesday to pay respects to the pastor who ministered to presidents all the way back to Dwight Eisenhower.

Clinton was the second former U.S. president to visit the state to honor Graham. He arrived in Charlotte late Tuesday morning and was escorted by to Graham’s casket by his son Franklin. The two spoke for about 15 minutes, ending their visit with what appeared to be a prayer over Graham’s casket.

“I’m just here as another person – grateful,” said Clinton, who visited without his wife, Hillary.

Like so many mourners, Clinton recalled his first memory of Graham 60 years ago when a Sunday School teacher took him to a football stadium in Little Rock, Arkansas, to hear a Graham crusade.

Clinton called it a profound experience in his life that became more amazing 30 years later when Graham returned to Arkansas and met with Clinton, who was then governor. Clinton said then he was honored to meet one-on-one with Graham several times in the White House.

“In that little room, he was the same person I saw when I was 11 on that football field,” Clinton said.

On Monday, former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, came to the complex that includes Graham’s library and worldwide headquarters of his evangelical center along with more than 6,000 other mourners. It was the first of two days of public mourning in Charlotte.

Bush and Clinton said they came early because they could not make it to Graham’s funeral on Friday. Bush said his father, George H.W. Bush won’t be there because of his health and Barack Obama also said he won’t be able to make it.

President Donald Trump plans to attend the funeral, held in a tent as a nod to Graham’s 1949 crusade in Los Angeles. That crusade, which propelled him to worldwide fame, was held inside a circus tent.

Graham was known as the “Pastor to Presidents.”

Graham said he learned something from talking to the powerful and the weak.

“Whether the story of Christ is told in a huge stadium, across the desk of a powerful leader, or shared with a golfing companion, it satisfies a common hunger,” Graham said.

Graham’s body will be taken to Washington on Wednesday and Thursday to lie in honor at the U.S. Capitol. He is only the fourth private person to have that honor since Congress allowed it in 1998, joining Capitol Police officer John Gibson and Officer Jacob Chestnut, killed in the line of duty in 1998, and civil rights hero Rosa Parks in 2005.