Library dedicated in honor of Graham

Former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton shake hands Thursday during a dedication ceremony for the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C.

The Associated Press
Published: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Three former U.S. presidents joined Thursday to praise evangelist Billy Graham and dedicate a new library in his honor, a $27-million complex that traces the preacher's rise from farm boy to America's pastor.

On a stage in view of a 40-foot glass cross that serves as the museum's front door, the frail preacher said he was embarrassed by the attention and there was "too much Billy Graham'' in the exhibits.

"This building behind me is just a building,'' the 88-year-old Graham said in brief remarks, his once-powerful voice quieted by age. "It's an instrument, a tool for the Gospel. The primary thing is the Gospel of Christ.''

Graham suffers from fluid on the brain, prostate cancer and Parkinson's disease, and is largely confined to his mountainside home in Montreat, N.C.

He was driven by golf cart to the stage, where he used a walker and leaned on his son and successor, Franklin, to reach a seat.

A crowd of about 1,500 gathered for the outdoor event, in heat reaching near 90 degrees.

President George H.W. Bush sobbed as he spoke of how much the minister meant to him, calling Graham "a spiritual gift to all of us.''

Bush noted that the preacher had comforted four generations of the president's family; that includes President George W. Bush, who sent Graham a handwritten note last week.

Presidents Carter and Clinton recalled how Graham's insistence that his crusades be racially integrated helped bring blacks and whites together in the South.

But Clinton said Graham, who has met every U.S. president since Harry Truman and became a confidant to many of them, is just as impressive for his personal kindness.

"When he prays with you in the Oval Office or upstairs in the White House, you feel he's praying for you, not the president,'' Clinton said.

The event grew so emotional that Graham quipped, "I feel like I've been attending my own funeral.''

But he became emotional himself while paying tribute to his wife, Ruth, who is 86 and has degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck. She is bedridden at their home.

Graham is the most widely heard minister in the world, preaching in person to more than 210 million people in a career spanning six decades.

As chief executive of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, the Rev. Franklin Graham has primary responsibility for preserving his father's legacy.

He initiated the idea for a library, which opens Tuesday and will be free to the public.

The 40,000-square-foot complex was built on the wooded grounds of the association, and among its designers was the ITEC Entertainment Co., which has done work for Disney and other theme parks.

The dairy farm where the preacher grew up is just a few miles from the site, and the library design was intended to reflect his roots.

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