Charlotte-born evangelist Reverend Billy Graham dies at age of 99

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte-born evangelist Reverend William Franklin "Billy" Graham Jr died just before 8 a.m. Wednesday from natural causes at his family home in Montreat, NC, just outside Asheville. He turned 99 on Nov. 7.

Rev. Graham's funeral will be held on Friday, March 2, at noon. The private, invite-only service will be held on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library under a tent. Family members said they thought that fitting, since the evangelist's public service began under a tent, or "canvass cathedral."

Music for the funeral was picked out of the reverend's favorites. Officials say Graham personally approved details of the service "some years ago." Following the service, Graham will be buried next to his wife, Ruth, on the library grounds. He - like his wife - will be buried in a simple pine and plywood casket made by inmates in Louisiana.

On Thursday, Rev. Graham's body will be moved from Morris Funeral Home in Asheville, NC, to the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. He will be received by family for a private prayer service on Saturday, Feb. 24 at 10:45 a.m.

After the prayer service, at 11 a.m., there will be a ceremonial departure of the motorcade bringing Rev. Graham's body back to Charlotte and to the Billy Graham Library, scheduled to arrive at 3 p.m.

The motorcade is expected to depart from the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove in Asheville around 11:25 a.m.

Billy Graham will then lie in repose from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday. There will be no public parking, but shuttle buses will run those wishing to visit to and from the library.

About 2,300 people are being invited to the funeral, including President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and all of the living former U.S. presidents.

Mel Graham, nephew of Billy Graham, spoke to reporters Wednesday evening after a media briefing at the the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters. Mel Graham has fond memories of his uncle.

"He had no agenda. He truly liked people. He cared for people and he wanted everybody to know that God loved them," said Mel Graham.

He encouraged any members of the public that wished to pay their last respects to come by the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.

"No matter how far he traveled he always felt like Charlotte was home and always wanted to come back home," said Mel Graham.

In 2014, Billy Graham's son, Rev. Franklin Graham, said that his father was in good spirits, eating well and that his mind was still sharp. By 2017, Graham's health had taken a sharp turn. He couldn't see or hear well and rarely left his Montreat home.

"I know I'm going to heaven. I'm looking forward to it with great anticipation," said Graham when he was 96.

Several medical issues caused Billy Graham's health to deteriorate within the last decade. He was in the hospital for nearly two weeks in 2007 for internal bleeding related to prostate cancer, RNN reports. Macular degeneration, hearing loss and a series of hospitalizations for respiratory infections in 2013 all took their toll on Graham.

A year ago, Franklin Graham sat down with WBTV and discussed his father's health. "Communication is very difficult with him. It's just hard at this point in life," Franklin Graham said in February 2017. "As a result of not being able to understand what people are saying, he just kind of shuts down."

"He's lived a long life," Franklin Graham said. "He spoke to more people than any other person in history - I'm talking about live, you know, in a live audience."

"Well he grew up in Charlotte, that's his home," Franklin Graham said in 2013. He lived on a dairy farm near what is now Park Road Shopping Center.

"When he dies and goes to heaven, he [Billy Graham] said, 'Franklin, take me home,'" Franklin Graham said.

Graham's message to all was simple and consistent: Encouraging people to commit their lives to Jesus.

Graham "preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to some 215 million people who attended one of his more than 400 Crusades, simulcasts and evangelistic rallies in more than 185 countries and territories," his obituary states. "He reached millions more through TV, video, film, the internet and 34 books."

"I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins," Graham said at his final Crusade in June 2005.

Graham, his wife, and their five children made their home in the mountains of North Carolina, a spokesperson said.

"My father [Billy Graham] was once asked, 'Where is Heaven?' He said, 'Heaven is where Jesus is and I am going to Him soon!'" Franklin Graham tweeted after his father's passing.

The community, and the world, reacted to Graham's passing Wednesday.

President Donald Trump said Graham will be missed by people from all religions.

Vice President Mike Pence tweeted that Graham's ministry "changed the lives of millions."

Former President Barack Obama tweeted that Graham "gave hope to generations of Americans."

Former Charlotte mayor and North Carolina governor Pat McCrory says he is heartbroken to hear that Reverend Billy Graham passed away Wednesday morning.

"I'm selfishly heartbroken, along with millions of people not only here in North Carolina but throughout the world, McCrory said during an interview on WBT Radio Wednesday. "Reverend Graham meant so much to us because he was so humble, he was so modest."

His ministry employed nearly 500 people worldwide and had offices in Australia, Canada, Germany and Great Britain in addition to Charlotte.

In Montreat, where Billy Graham and his wife Ruth were married, raised a family and where both died, more than ten years apart, people were stunned by the loss.

"It's a sad day for everybody," said nearby resident Lisa Hutchins.

On the campus of Montreat College, students said it was a painful day for the community. President Dr. Paul Maurer said Billy was a big part of the college and the community and will be missed.

"When you lose a great human being it hurts," he said.

Just before lunch, a sheriff's patrol car led a procession of family vehicles and the hearse carrying the body of Graham. The caravan carried Graham through the old arches at the entrance to the town of Montreat one last time.

Hutchins says it's the end of an era in the community.

"Things will be so different without him here," she said.

Several years ago, Billy Graham and his younger sister, Jean Ford, started talking about what he wanted said at his funeral, the Charlotte Observer reported.

According to the Observer, Jean Ford and her husband, Leighton Ford, asked Billy whether he'd want his sister to say a few words.

"I would be very honored," he answered.

Then they asked: What would you want her to say?

Billy's answer: "He tried to do what he thought he should."

They pressed: And what was that?

"Preach the Gospel," Billy said.

In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts can be made online at or mailed to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a spokesperson said. Notes of remembrance can be posted here.

A special area was prepared for visitors who wish to leave flowers or cards at the Billy Graham Library on Wednesday. Hundreds came by to show their respect and remember the impact Graham had on their lives.

Related: Hundreds visit Billy Graham Library after news of Rev. Graham passing

The library will be closed Thursday and will remain closed until March 5.

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