CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Motorists pulled aside and well-wishers lined freeway overpasses to see the Rev. Billy Graham’s motorcade barrel through his beloved home state of North Carolina on Saturday in a running tribute to “America’s Pastor.”
Adults and children stood behind wooden barricades and yellow tape as police officers saluted and admirers captured the moment on cell phones. Fire trucks parked on overpasses along Interstate 40.
“He has never really reveled in all of the celebrity. It’s come with the territory,” said Joe Tyson, a family friend who runs a furniture store in Black Mountain, where he watched the procession. “But they’ve managed to live a very normal life for such famous people. And I think he’d be very proud that his neighbors turned out and quietly celebrated his reward and his passage into heaven.”
The motorcade left the mountain chapel at the training center operated by Graham’s evangelistic association in Asheville on a long drive along Interstate 40 to his library in Charlotte, the state’s largest city.
It was a chance for residents in some of Graham’s favorite places to pay tribute. He often shopped or caught trains in Black Mountain. He maintained his home in the nearby community of Montreat.
The procession is part of more than a week of mourning that culminates with his burial March 2 at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
Graham, who died Wednesday at his home in North Carolina’s mountains at age 99, reached hundreds of millions of listeners around the world with his rallies and his pioneering use of television.
A viewing will be held at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte on Monday and Tuesday. Graham will also lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday and Thursday, the first time a private citizen has been accorded such recognition since civil rights hero Rosa Parks in 2005.
The Graham library closed Saturday as mourners laid flowers and awaited the arrival of the evangelist’s casket in Charlotte.
“He was so bold, he so boldly confessed the word of God,” said Madeline Reid. “And I believe because of his service to humanity, that he’s truly gonna be great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Ruby Sparks, 85, attended a Graham youth ministry meeting in 1951, when she was a college student in Greensboro, North Carolina and met him in 1970.
“He was such a wonderful man of God, and a messenger of God,” she said.
Asked if there would ever be another force like his, she replied: “I doubt it. Perhaps, in my next, in another lifetime. Not in my lifetime.”
Graham will be laid to rest March 2 at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway at the library in Charlotte, buried in a simple prison-made plywood coffin next to his wife, Ruth, who died in 2007. His coffin was built by inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, who typically construct caskets for fellow prisoners who cannot afford one.
The funeral will be held in a tent in the main parking lot of Graham’s library in tribute to the 1949 Los Angeles tent revivals that propelled him to international fame, family spokesman Mark DeMoss said. About 2,000 people are expected at the private, invitation-only funeral.
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