CHARLOTTE, N.C. - For almost an hour and a half Thursday, he sat silently in his cushioned, throne-like chair, looking like a white-maned monarch as a trio of former presidents came forward to trumpet his lasting impact on the country and the world.
But when it was Billy Graham’s turn to address the crowd spread out under a long white tent, he approached the podium with a walker and then spoke with humility - and humor.
‘‘I feel like I’ve been attending my own funeral,’’ he said, drawing the biggest laugh of the day.
The 1,500 guests had come to Graham’s hometown of Charlotte not to mourn the world-famous evangelist, but to help him dedicate the $27 million Billy Graham Library.
Though it’s filled with memorabilia from a life in which he rubbed shoulders with real kings and 11 U.S. presidents, Graham said he hopes the museum will mostly continue his 60-year crusade to bring people to Jesus Christ.
‘‘This building behind me is a tool for the Gospel,’’ preached Graham, 88, his voice weakened by age and illness. ‘‘I pray that God will use (it) and speak to the many people who come through this facility.’’
Graham’s words ended a ceremony that was part media event, part Graham family reunion and part Christian equivalent of a presidential library opening.
A fleet of TV satellite trucks hogged the parking lot at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, while correspondents from ABC, NBC, Time magazine, and the Christian Broadcasting Network worked the event.
Some 85 members of the Graham family showed up and his professional family was there, too.
Nearing 100 years old and relying on a cane, George Beverly Shea belted out in baritone the hymn - ‘‘How Great Thou Art’’ - he’s sung at Graham crusades since 1947, when they held one at the Charlotte Armory.
On Thursday, the 1,500 invitees sang along with him on the chorus.
Other than Graham himself, the biggest attraction were ex-Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.
Though they all have their own libraries and aren’t used to playing supporting roles, the three former chief executives were alternately insightful, funny, even emotional.
MICHAEL McCAFFERTY COMMENTS:
Billy Graham is a great Christian leader. He is truly a servant of the Lord. In the fall of 1995 when Billy Graham came to Saskatoon I gave my life and will over to JESUS CHRIST as
my Lord and Savior.
I love and admire Billy Graham.