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The Known And Unknown Guests Who Came To Bid Farewell To Billy Graham

Tonieh Ross, a Charlotte resident who grew up in Liberia, said Billy Graham's style of preaching was what made him special.
Gwendolyn Glenn

Dignitaries and celebrities were among the estimated 2000 people invited to the funeral of Rev. Billy Graham on Friday. President Donald Trump, the First Lady and Vice President Mike Pence attended the service that was peppered with humorous remarks by family members as they reflected on the impact Rev. Graham had on their lives.

There are also people whose names you probably don’t recognize, including Jay Stone, who learned of Graham from his grandmother. 

“She called him Billy Grim and from a young age knowing the respect my grandmom had for Graham, I had to be here,” Stone said. 

Stone is the curator of the Houston Museum of African American culture. He says he always appreciated the themes Graham focused on when listening to his grandmother.

“His message was always clear, one of love, thinking about one’s salvation,” he said.

That kind of message resonated with Tonieh Ross, a Charlotte resident. She grew up in Liberia, a country where Graham preached many times.

“Having a war, going through losing most of my family members, turning to Jesus Christ, I enjoyed his preaching it was simple, not complicated, he made it easy,” Ross said. “There’s not a word to say how I feel, I’m humbled, honored, I’m rejoicing and I’m not sad because I know where he is … tears of joy, yes”

Those attending the funeral came from diverse backgrounds and they talked about how Graham mingled with people from all walks of life. 

Dr. Robert Coleman, a former dean of Graham’s international evangelical school.
Credit Gwendolyn Glenn / WFAE
Dr. Robert Coleman, a former dean of Graham’s international evangelical school.

“He was a servant and loved to make little folks feel like big people,” said Dr. Robert Coleman, a former dean of Graham’s international evangelical school. 

Coleman says he met Graham in 1957 as a young man when he was starting out teaching evangelism. His brother, who was working the gate where Graham was holding one of his crusades, introduced them.

“He called me Bob, Bob come up here on the platform and sit with me tonight,” he said. “I’d never met Billy. He doesn’t know me from and I walked up those steps and sat on the platform behind him. That’s characteristic of Billy.”

That kind of gesture is what many say added to the attraction people had for Graham and his ministry. But Rick Warren, author of “The Purpose Driven Life,” says there was so much more to Graham than charisma that attributed to his long reach and longevity.

“The fact that he made it all those years without any scandal,” Warren said. “BG built his life on important values like integrity, humility, generosity and I think it’s his character that carried him.”

That character made Graham a standard voice in the staunchly Catholic home of Timothy Dolan. Dolan is now Archbishop of New York. 

“Billy Graham was a towering influence in my life growing up in 50s and 60 and I said I want to do what he does,” Dolan said. “I am so honored his family invited me as a Catholic representation. Billy was a bridge builder and to welcome Catholics wasn’t always blessed so I’m honored to be here.”

It was not a sad day for Dolan and others. Many said it was a celebration. After all, they say he is where he wanted to be all along, in heaven.

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.