"Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don't you believe a word of it," Billy, the reverend known as America's Pastor, once said. "I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God." And when Billy passed away at age 99 on Feb. 21, rather than feeling sad, his daughter Ruth Graham, 67, exclusively echoed that sentiment to Closer Weekly. "This really is a glorious day. My father is finally free," she said.
As many mourned his passing, plans were set in motion to lay Billy to rest on March 2 on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, NC next to his beloved wife, Ruth Graham, who passed away in 2007. His coffin, "a simple plywood casket like my mother's," son Franklin Graham explained, "was built by convicted murderers at Angola Prison," where the family had donated money to build two chapels, and where Billy had preached to inmates.
Billy and his family. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
The casket suits the man whom televangelist Joel Osteen described to Closer as "humble and gracious." In the days following Billy's death, family, friends, and followers shared remembrances of how their lives had been touched by the powerful preacher. "The outpouring of love we are seeing as we travel from Asheville to Charlotte via the motorcade with my father is overwhelming," said Franklin, 65. "People lining the streets, the overpasses — thank you!"
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both paid their respects while Billy's casket lay in repose at the Library. "He changed my life," said President Bush. "His care and his teachings were the real beginning of my faith walk — and the start of the end of my drinking."
Billy and George W. Bush. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
From Charlotte, Billy's coffin traveled to the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, DC on Feb. 28, where it was met by President Donald Trump and other elected officials. The pastor is only the fourth non-politician to have lain in honor in the Capitol, joining civil rights icon Rosa Parks, and two police officers killed in the line of duty.
Billy's family decided to hold a private funeral in Charlotte, with around 2,300 invited guests gathering under a large tent similar to the one where a fiery young Billy held his first crusade in LA in 1949. "I have just felt incredibly joyful today," Ruth told Closer. "His legacy is going to be in the lives of people who were changed because of the Gospel." Ruth's words goes perfectly with one of Billy's quotes, "Someday this life will end, but for the Christian, death also marks a beginning."
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