Now that the nation has bid a very public farewell to the Rev. Billy Graham, the great evangelist will be returned to the earth after a private memorial, laid to rest in the humblest of vessels.
Graham, who died Feb. 21 at 99, will be buried in a pine coffin beside his wife’s grave after today’s service in Charlotte, N.C. His funeral, scheduled to begin at at noon, will be streamed live at both AJC.com and WSBTV.com and on the WSB-TV News app, available on smartphones or tablets or streaming devices. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association also plans to stream the service here; its coverage begins at 10 a.m.
President Donald Trump and Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and Karen Pence are scheduled to attend. Former Presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter will not be there. Clinton and the younger Bush made visits ahead of time to pay their respects; a statement from the Carter Center in Atlanta said Carter, whose wife Rosalynn Carter is recovering from a recent surgery, is unable to attend.
Supreme Court Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito Jr. and a slew of Congressional leaders were among the dignitaries at a ceremony this week at the U.S. Capitol, where Graham’s remains lay in honor. A military honor guard took up a position during the coffin’s time there and transported it down the steps Thursday, for the trip back to North Carolina.
“My father would not be comfortable with all of the attention in the Rotunda,” the Rev. Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, said in a statement posted to his public social media accounts. “But he would be pleased with the focus on the Lord Jesus Christ and His life-changing Gospel that permeated the event.”
Members of North Carolina’s Congressional delegation presented Franklin Graham with the flag that flew over the Capitol during the time his father’s remains lay in honor.
“The time in Washington has been very special to our family,” he said. “Thank you to all who paid their respects to my father in the Rotunda.
Billy Graham’s 12 grandsons will serve as pallbearers at his funeral. His final resting place will be at the foot of the cross-shaped brick walkway in the Prayer Garden at the Billy Graham Library.
His casket, like Ruth Graham’s, was designed and built by inmates at the maximum-security Louisiana State Penitentiary. In 2005, while touring the prison, Franklin Graham saw inmates building caskets for other inmates who could not afford to buy one. He was so moved he asked that they make caskets for his parents. Ruth Graham died in 2007.
“It’s a great joy to think of my father experiencing Heaven,” Franklin Graham said.
Billy Graham was born on a farm near Charlotte on Nov. 7, 1918. A traveling salesman as a young man, his life’s work began while in college in Florida. where he’d preach at dog tracks, saloons and a Tampa trailer park.
A 1949 crusade in Los Angeles launched Graham into prominence and his first such event in Atlanta was in 1950. Over the years he would speak to more than 200 million people at crusades held on six continents, including two more in Atlanta. Former President Carter, the late Coretta Scott King and Johnny Cash and boxing champ Evander Holyfield were among the notables who shared the stage during Graham’s five-day crusade at the Georgia Dome in 1994, his final one here.
Nearly 70,000 worshipers packed the Dome for his farewell address, which stressed racial unity.
“The almighty God loves, and he wants to help you,” Graham said during that final crusade week in Atlanta. “He wants to help you. He wants to come into your life, direct your heart and be your friend.”