Charlotteans shouldn’t be surprised if President Donald Trump attends the funeral of the Rev. Billy Graham March 2 in Charlotte, considering his close friendship with the evangelist’s son, Franklin Graham.
The big question is whether he’ll be joined by the nation’s other surviving presidents. Jimmy Carter, George Bush, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton all considered Graham a personal friend.
On Thursday night, a spokesman for George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, said the couple would be unable to attend the funeral "of their dear friend, Rev. Billy Graham. They regret it very much."
Three former presidents showed up in Charlotte in 2007 for the dedication of the Billy Graham Library. But if five came for the funeral – along with President Trump – it would be an event unlike any in history.
Charlotteans likely won’t know until the last minute which among the former presidents will attend, along with other key congressional figures.
But it’s clear their presence will impact security in south Charlotte. The private funeral starts at noon at the Graham Library off Billy Graham Boulevard, and 2,300 people are expected. President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and all former presidents have been invited. (It’s being reported Trump will be here, but the White House has yet to confirm it.)
Graham will lie in public repose Feb. 26 and 27 at his family homestead at the Billy Graham Library.
That means traffic issues will engulf Interstate 77 at the Billy Graham Boulevard/Woodlawn exit, as well as Interstate 85. Shuttle buses will take people from parking lots at the Operation Christmas Child warehouse, 7100 Forest Point Blvd. in south Charlotte, and from the Charlotte Valet Business Lot 2 at 5601 Wilkinson Blvd. at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
When and if the current and former presidents arrive, traffic issues may also overtake Charlotte Douglas International Airport and adjacent National Guard sites.
Charlotte experienced a bit of this before, when the city hosted the Democratic National Convention, and it included closed roads, last minute detours and security vehicles parked on interstate overpasses and exits.
The Rev. Billy Graham has long been known as the confidante and clergyman to America’s presidents.
Trump pinned a tweet at the top of his Twitter page Wednesday, noting Graham “will be missed by Christians and all religions” and George H.W. Bush sent out a statement calling Graham “America's pastor.”
Bill Clinton called Graham “one of the most important religious leaders in American history.”
“I will never forget the first time I saw him, 60 years ago in Little Rock, during the school integration struggle,” Clinton said in a statement. “He filled a football stadium with a fully integrated audience, reminding them that we all come before God as equals, both in our imperfection and our absolute claim to amazing grace...Billy has finished his long good race, leaving our world a better place and claiming his place in glory.”