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Franklin Graham on father's death: Billy Graham 'never saw himself as a celebrity'
Montreat residents remember encounters and impressions of famed evangelist Billy Graham who died at his Montreat home on Wednesday at the age of 99. Angeli Wrightfirstname.lastname@example.org
ASHEVILLE — Franklin Graham was having breakfast in Dallas, Texas, when he received the call.
"You're never quite ready for that," Graham said in a phone interview with the Citizen Times. "And you hang up the phone. 'Well, what do I need to right now? Who do I need to call?'
"And then there's a flood of memories of a life with him."
The Rev. Billy Graham, the renowned evangelist whose travels brought his sermons to some 215 million people, died Wednesday morning. He was 99, dying in his sleep at his home in Montreat after suffering from a series of illnesses in his later years.
Franklin Graham last saw his father on Sunday, a weekend trip he regularly took from Boone when he was home. The third child of Billy and Ruth Graham, the 65-year-old now is president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistical Association and head of the international relief organization Samaritan's Purse.
Billy Graham was pastor to the presidents, meeting with them all from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. Franklin Graham said George W. Bush was the first to call after his father died; he's also spoken with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
"When they see a celebrity, they think the person's maybe not approachable," Franklin Graham said. "My father never saw himself as a celebrity. He grew up on a farm outside of Charlotte. He always saw himself just as a farm boy from Mecklenburg County. And when people would approach him and say, 'Dr. Graham, can I have your autograph?' He'd always have this, 'Aw shucks, you want mine?'"
As the most visible kin of Billy Graham, Franklin Graham also has become a controversial figure in his own right.
Billy Graham, though savvy with television and radio, often kept quiet on politics and social issues. Franklin Graham is media-savvy, too, but at times has used social media and guest spots on TV news to voice divisive opinions on Islam and LGBT issues.
Still, Franklin Graham isn't looking to fill the shoes of his father, who he said used platforms "to communicate the gospel more effectively than anybody else in history."
And though it will continue to use social media — a method of communication that wasn't yet available during Billy Graham's active preaching days — Franklin said the BGEA won't be reinventing itself.
"None of (social media) was really available for my father when he was still preaching," he said, "and it just allows us to continue to take the gospel to another generation."
Franklin said he also won't try to be the next Billy Graham. He recalled seeing his father speak in 1986 in Amsterdam, where some 8,000 evangelists were in attendance.
"He stood behind the pulpit and he pointed to the 8,000 evangelists, and he said, 'You are the next Billy Graham,'" Franklin said.
"I don't think it's one person. I think God is using many today."