Ex-Presidents Honor Graham at New Library

By Rachel Zoll
Associated Press
Friday, June 1, 2007

CHARLOTTE, May 31 -- Three former U.S. presidents came together Thursday to praise evangelist Billy Graham and help dedicate a library in his honor, a $27 million complex that traces the preacher's rise from farm boy to the most widely heard minister in the world.

On a stage in view of a 40-foot glass cross that serves as the museum's front door, the frail preacher said that he was embarrassed by the attention and that there was "too much Billy Graham" in the exhibits.

"This building behind me is just a building," Graham, 88, said in brief remarks, his once-powerful voice quieted by age. "It's an instrument, a tool for the Gospel. The primary thing is the Gospel of Christ."

Graham suffers from fluid on the brain, prostate cancer and Parkinson's disease and rarely leaves his mountainside home in Montreat, N.C. He was driven by a golf cart to the stage, where he used a walker and leaned on his son and successor, Franklin, to reach a seat.

A crowd of about 1,500 gathered for the outdoor event in heat nearing 90 degrees.

Former president George H.W. Bush sobbed as he spoke of how much the minister meant to him, calling Graham "a spiritual gift to all of us." Bush noted that the preacher had comforted four generations of the president's family, including the current President Bush, who sent Graham a handwritten note last week.

Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton recalled how Graham helped bring blacks and whites together in the South through his insistence that his crusades be racially integrated.

Clinton said Graham is just as impressive for his personal kindness.

"When he prays with you in the Oval Office or upstairs in the White House, you feel he's praying for you, not the president," Clinton said.

The event grew so emotional that Graham quipped, "I feel like I've been attending my own funeral." But he became emotional himself while paying tribute to his wife, Ruth, who is 86 and is bedridden at their home with osteoarthritis.

Graham has preached in person to more than 210 million people in a career spanning six decades.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company