Published December 20, 2010
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Rev. Billy Graham rarely appears in public these days, but a visit from former President George W. Bush on Monday was enough to bring the influential evangelist to the library named for him.
Hundreds of people lined up at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte for a chance to get Bush and former first lady Laura Bush to sign copies of their books.
Graham and his son, Franklin, had lunch with the Bushes before the book signing.
The evangelist, who was in a wheelchair, hugged the former president before leaving them in the library book store for the signings. The former president has been on tour signing copies of his book "Decision Points." Laura Bush was signing copies of her book, "Spoken From the Heart."
Franklin Graham says his 92-year-old father is as sharp as he's been in the past few years.
"His mind is sharper today than it was five years ago," he said. "I don't know what it is. He is getting better. He is getting stronger."
Bush credits Billy Graham with helping him follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Franklin Graham said his father played a role in helping turn around Bush's life -- a decision recounted in the president's new book.
"Daddy doesn't remember all of it because it was a long time ago but he does remember the moment," Franklin Graham said. "My father is very grateful that he had an opportunity to speak to the president at the point when the president was willing to listen."
Billy Graham makes limited public appearances now, spending most of his time at home in Montreat, about 110 miles northwest of Charlotte.
But his meeting with Bush is not necessarily out of the ordinary, according to David Aikman, a professor at Patrick Henry College and the author of "Billy Graham: His Life and Influence." Graham has met every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama, and knew Bush years before his time in the White House.
"He's an individual who's probably met more famous people around the world than anyone else," Aikman said of Graham.
Bush has credited Graham with helping turn the younger man away from a dissolute life of drinking and despair, citing a 1985 meeting at the Bush family home in Maine as a pivotal moment in Bush's decision to become a born-again Christian.
"I don't know what his current relationship is with Bush," Aikman said. "He had a few phone conversations with him when he was in the White House. This might be just an opportunity to see each other in person again."
The book signing event sold out in a matter of hours Saturday. Library officials would not say how many people obtained the wristbands necessary for admission. But they began lining up outside the library at dawn.
Many said they weren't disappointed.
John Ellison and his wife, Dana Ellison, of suburban Matthews, bought two copies each of the Bushes' books.
"I'm going to keep two but we bought one for my pastor," he said. He's giving the other to his mother-in-law.
"He was a good president," he said.
Tim Arnold, 55, of Charlotte, said he was "thrilled" to shake the president's hand.
"It was very moving," said Arnold, a mortgage broker. "The country needs a leader like Bush. I have no regrets about standing in line and waiting.'
His only regret was not meeting Billy Graham.
"He's meant so much to the world," Arnold said. "He's a spiritual man and we don't have enough people like him anymore. He's a real inspiration."