Local News

Obama visits evangelist Billy Graham

Posted April 25, 2010 10:30 a.m. EDT
Updated April 25, 2010 5:54 p.m. EDT

Evangelist Billy Graham died on Feb. 21 at the age of 99.

— Barack Obama on Sunday became the eleventh American president to seek counsel from Billy Graham, a North Carolina evangelist who another president once dubbed "America's pastor."

Obama was "extraordinarily gratified" that Billy Graham took the time to meet with him for the first time at Graham's mountainside home in Montreat early Sunday afternoon, the president's Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton told the pool of reporters.

"Rev. Graham has obviously been an important spiritual leader for past president and for the American presidents for decades," Burton said. "He's a real treasure for our country. The president appreciates the opportunity to visit him at his home."

The men talked and prayed together in private, along with Graham's son Franklin.

"I am pleased to have had President Obama in my home this afternoon," Graham said in a statement. "I want to encourage Christians everywhere to pray for our president and for all those in positions of authority and especially for the men and women serving in our military."

Graham has counseled and advised every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. President George H.W. Bush once called Graham "America's pastor."

People lined the route to Graham's house and waved as the president came and went. He was next headed to West Virginia to speak at a memorial for 29 coal miners killed in an April 5 explosion.

Obama visited Graham after vacationing at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville this weekend. The White House requested the meeting several days ago, but it had been tentative, given the president's schedule and Billy Graham's unpredictable health, Burton said.

"He's got some of the creaks that come with advancing age, but he's still as sharp as ever," Burton said.

He said that Obama spoke with Graham by phone on his 91st birthday in November, and the two agreed to meet as soon as possible. Obama had tried to see Graham when he was in North Carolina for a presidential campaign debate in 2008, but the timing didn't work out.

Graham's health has declined in recent years, and he spends much of his time secluded at his Montreat home. Ruth Graham, his wife of more than 60 years, passed away in June 2007.

Graham made a rare public appearance last Wednesday to see renovations to his library in his hometown of Charlotte.

Between a series of revivals in Los Angeles in 1949 and his last official revival in New York in 2005, Graham preached in person to about 215 million people in 185 countries and territories worldwide.