WASHINGTON — U.S. presidents mourned the loss Wednesday of evangelist Billy Graham, who served as a spiritual counsel and personal confidant to numerous commanders in chief.
Graham, who had prayed with every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama and became known as “America’s pastor,” died at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, at the age of 99, his spokesman said.
“The GREAT Billy Graham is dead. There was nobody like him! He will be missed by Christians and all religions. A very special man,” President Donald Trump tweeted.
First lady Melania Trump tweeted that Graham “led an impactful life, touching so many people with his spiritual teachings. He will be deeply missed.”
Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen, who are devout Christians, also sent condolences to Graham’s family.
“Karen and I were saddened to learn of the passing of one of the greatest Americans of the 20th century, Reverend Billy Graham. We send our deepest condolences to the Graham family,” Pence said in a statement.
“Billy Graham’s ministry for the gospel of Jesus Christ and his matchless voice changed the lives of millions. We mourn his passing but I know with absolute certainty that today he heard those words, ‘well done good and faithful servant.’ Thank you Billy Graham. God bless you.”
Graham’s son Franklin, who took over the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, had participated in President Trump’s inauguration. Mr. Trump was one of the more than 800 guests who attended Graham’s 95th birthday celebration in 2013 in Asheville, North Carolina.
Former President George H. W. Bush said Graham “touched the hearts of not only Christians, but people of all faiths, because he was such a good man.”
“He would come to Maine to visit with Barbara and me, and he was a great sport. He loved going really fast in my boat. I guess you could say we had that in common. Then we would come home and talk about life,” Bush said in a statement.
Bush added that Graham was a mentor to several of his children, including former President George W. Bush.
Former President Jimmy Carter credited Graham with having an “enormous influence” on his spiritual life.
“Broad-minded, forgiving, and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve,” Carter said of Graham in a statement.
Former President Bill Clinton said he’ll never forget the first time he saw Graham: 60 years ago at Little Rock, Arkansas, during the push for desegregation in schools.
“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,” Clinton recalled in a statement.
Carter, Clinton and George H.W. Bush were on hand for the dedication of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte in June 2007.
Bush’s son, George W. Bush, called Graham a “shepherd to millions.”
“He had a powerful, captivating presence and a keen mind. He was full of kindness and grace. His love for Christ and his gentle soul helped open hearts to the Word, including mine,” the 43rd president said.
In a tweet, former President Barack Obama, who went to visit Graham at his home in North Carolina in 2010, called Graham “a humble servant who prayed for so many – and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.”
Congressional leaders also praised the legendary evangelical leader.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Graham’s “kindly manner and unpretentious nature” is what made him a trusted confidant to American leaders.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said “the whole House sends its condolences to the Graham family at this time of loss.”