Former President George W. Bush left with a simple message Monday after honoring a man he credits with changing his life.
“God bless Billy Graham,” Bush told reporters.
Accompanied by Franklin Graham, Bush and his wife, Laura, viewed the casket inside Billy Graham’s childhood home near the library named for the late evangelist. Graham died Wednesday at age 99.
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“Laura and I are honored to be able to come pay our respects to the Graham family, and more importantly to be able to say goodby to a person who was influential in our lives and influential in the lives of millions,” Bush told reporters after spending about 30 minutes in the home. “If there’s such as thing as a humble shepherd of the Lord, Billy Graham is that person. I am unbelievably blessed to have met him.”
Bush met Graham in 1985 at the home of his grandmother in Kennebunkport, Maine. Shortly after, the two men went for a walk by the sea.
“I was captivated by him,” Bush wrote last week in the Wall Street Journal. “He had a powerful presence, full of kindness and grace, and a keen mind.”
Bush said Graham sent him a copy of a Bible inscribed with a verse from Philippians.
“God’s work within me began in earnest with Billy’s outreach,” Bush wrote. “His care and his teachings were the real beginning of my faith walk – and the start of the end of my drinking. I couldn’t have given up alcohol on my own. But in 1986, at 40, I finally found the strength to quit.”
Graham would remain close to Bush and his family.
Graham, who has known every president since Harry Truman – and been a confidant to several – once said he found President George H.W. Bush the easiest to talk to about spiritual issues.
“He says straight out that he has received Christ as his Savior and that he is a born-again believer,” Graham said of the senior Bush.
The younger Bush told reporters gathered outside the Billy Graham Library that he brought greetings from his 93-year-old father and mother, Barbara.
“Billy Graham and dad were great buddies,” Bush said. “I know he wishes he could come too but he’s not moving around well these days. But his spirit and heart are here.”
In the Journal article, Bush also wrote about what may have been Graham’s “most meaningful service” to the country. It came three days after 9/11 when Bush invited Graham to lead an ecumenical service at Washington’s National Cathedral.
“It was no easy task,” Bush wrote. “America was on bended knee – frightened, angry, uncertain. As only Billy Graham could, he helped us feel God’s arms wrapped around our mourning country.”