CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Thousands of people from all walks of life — including a former president — filed slowly past the casket of the Rev. Billy Graham on Monday to pay their final respects to a man who reached millions with his message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
A light drizzle greeted mourners on hand at 8 a.m. when the doors opened to Graham's boyhood home, but it had tapered by the late afternoon when former President George W. Bush arrived with his wife, Laura. The viewing was expected to last late into the night for the famed evangelist, who died Wednesday at age 99.
Mourners of all races, young and old, some in suits and some in T-shirts and flip-flops, walked through the parlor where Graham's closed casket lay on a black pedestal. They walked past family photos and a cross made of white lilies to see the simple plywood container made by prison inmates. At the door for the first few hours was Graham's grandson, Roy, shaking the hand of every person who came to see his grandfather.
"I just wanted to tell them how much I appreciated the love for my family," Roy Graham said.
And they responded with stories. Roy Graham said what moved him the most Monday were the dozens who paused and told him the exact moment and place Billy Graham came into their lives through his hundreds of crusades around the world.
Cecily Turner is one of them. Her mother was at Billy Graham's 1957 New York crusade and she said he led her mother to salvation that day.
"I know she is in heaven thanking him right now," she said.
Mother passed her faith on to daughter, and Turner said she passed it down to five children and four great-grandchildren.
"That's an amazing thing," she said.
Graham's funeral is Friday, and President Donald Trump said he will attend. Invitations were sent to all ex-presidents of the U.S.
Bush has said he chose Monday because he had a scheduling conflict with the funeral. He was greeted by Graham's son Franklin and spent about 30 minutes with the family during a private viewing.
"Laura and I are honored to be able to come and pay our respects to the Graham family and, more importantly, to be able to say goodbye to a person who was influential in our lives and influential in the lives of millions," Bush told reporters afterward.
He also brought condolences from his father, George H.W. Bush, whom he described as a great friend of Graham's.
"I know he wished he could come too, but he's not moving around much these days," Bush said.
Former President Barack Obama is not planning to attend memorial services for Graham this week, his office said. Obama tweeted last week after that Graham was "was a humble servant who prayed for so many — and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans."
Public viewing was to continue Monday and Tuesday until 10 p.m. at Graham's Charlotte library on the campus of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. His body will then be taken to the U.S. Capitol, where Wednesday and Thursday he will be the first private citizen to lie in honor there since civil rights hero Rosa Parks in 2005.
The funeral will be held in a giant tent as a nod to Graham's 1949 Los Angeles crusade. That revival, which Graham said propelled him to worldwide fame, was held in a circus tent dubbed the "Canvas Cathedral." The man called "America's Pastor" would eventually preach to an estimated 210 million people in person and many more through his pioneering use of prime-time telecasts, network radio, daily newspaper columns, evangelistic films and satellite TV hookups.
Billy Wayne Arrington was a boy when he first encountered Graham on a TV screen in Kingsport, Tennessee. He now does Christian theater. Arrington wiped tears from his eyes as he exited after saying a prayer for Graham and for the world he leaves behind.
"I'm just overwhelmed, not by sadness — just overwhelmed to see so many lives touched," Arrington said.
Graham will be buried beside his wife, Ruth, who died in 2007, at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway at Graham's library in Charlotte.