BOONE, N.C. (WNCN) – Evangelist Billy Graham turns 98 years old Monday.
Graham was born on a dairy farm in Charlotte on Nov. 7, 1918. The North Carolina native still lives in his mountain home in Montreat, just east of Asheville.
The man some have called “North Carolina’s Favorite Son” and “America’s Pastor” has preached to nearly 215 million people in 185 countries according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The organization said he has preached to more people in live audiences than anyone in history.
Graham’s eldest son, Franklin, is president and CEO of the Charlotte-based BGEA and Boone-based Samaritan’s Purse.
Franklin Graham recently sat down with CBS North Carolina’s Justin Quesinberry at Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in Boone to talk about his father’s life at 98.
The following is portion of the conversation, which has been edited for length:
QUESINBERRY: “How is your father doing?”
GRAHAM: “You know, he’s doing OK. He’s 98 years old. He doesn’t see very well, doesn’t hear very well, but his mind is still clear and he still has a good appetite. He just, because he doesn’t hear well, so much of the conversation he just doesn’t understand or doesn’t get. I think this is a problem for older people. They feel isolated because they can’t be a part of the conversation. They just kind of withdraw and I’ve seen that kind of in my father where he just kind of withdraws. He’s quiet. If you can ask him a question, if he can hear it, generally he’s able to respond. Short sentences, you know, one or two words is kind of his response today.”
QUESINBERRY: “What’s that like seeing him in that condition compared with the man we all see giving the sermons? What a voice he had.”
GRAHAM: “Well, sometimes I’m able to communicate to him about somewhere where I’ve just preached and his comment will be, ‘Praise the Lord.’ And so even where he’s frail and he’s elderly now – he’s still with us. And, I think that means a lot. It means a lot to the family, but I think it means a lot to Christians around the world for them to know that Billy Graham is still here on this Earth and he’s still with us.”
QUESINBERRY: “What is life like for Billy Graham at age 98?”
GRAHAM: “I think he’s just happy to wake up in the morning and he’s got great caregivers around him. He’s in his own home but we have two people around the clock with him at the house and that care for him and that’s really his family. These are people he sees every day. He loves them very much. They’re very good to him and they love him. So, we’re very grateful that we’ve had just this incredible staff that has surrounded my father during these last years of his life. He said he was going to live to be 100. So, he’s got two years, but I hope he lives longer than that.”
QUESINBERRY: “Any birthday celebrations planned? We saw the big celebration a few years ago for his 95th birthday, but obviously now his condition isn’t quite what it was then.”
GRAHAM: “We’re not going to be doing any more of those kinds of celebrations. He’s not able to do that. But, one thing that he loves are these kind of cheap birthday cakes that you get at the grocery store that’s got that lard icing on it. We’re just going to give him one of those cheap cakes with lard icing and let him have at it.”
QUESINBERRY: “The good stuff.”
GRAHAM: “The good stuff.”
GRAHAM: “You know my father’s favorite meal is?”
QUESINBERRY: “What’s that?”
GRAHAM: “And this is what he’s going to have this on his birthday: Vienna sausages cold out of a can and cold pork and beans cold out of a can because when he was a boy on the farm, they would go to a little country store and that’s what they had for lunch – a can of Vienna sausages and just, again, cold right out of the can, and pork and beans and that’s my father’s favorite meal. And so, we’re going to give him his favorite meal on his birthday.”
QUESINBERRY: “A very simple meal. Most people probably wouldn’t think about Billy Graham loving that.”
GRAHAM: “So maybe that’s his longevity. Maybe it’s Vienna sausages. I don’t know.”
QUESINBERRY: “How closely is your father, you think, watching this election?”
GRAHAM: “I don’t think, because it’s hard for him to see and hear, he knows who’s running, of course. I try to tell him who’s ahead or who’s behind and just kind of give him a broad view, so he has that. He, of course, knows both candidates. He knows Hillary quite well and he knows Donald Trump quite well. Whoever wins, my father has had a part, or has had an influence in some point of their life.”
QUESINBERRY: “He has met with every U.S. president going back from Truman all the way up to President Obama. Do you foresee any more meetings of that kind or is his condition not going to allow that?”
GRAHAM: “No. No. That’s not going to happen anymore.”
QUESINBERRY: “But, as you mention, he has had that relationship with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, so in some way that continuation will be there.”
GRAHAM: “Donald Trump came to his 95th birthday and we invited Hillary, but she chose not to come. Of course we had no clue that Donald Trump would be running for president, and I don’t think he knew at that time. But, he was very gracious and he and Melania came there to the Grove Park Inn there in Asheville where we had the birthday celebration. It meant a lot to my father that he would come.”
QUESINBERRY: “Your father is turning 98 on the eve of the election. What do you think his message would be for the American people for the day after the election?”
GRAHAM: “Well, I think if he could speak into that, it would be that we need to pray, we need to come together as Americans because the election process at that point is over. We’ve got to move forward as a nation. We’ve got some real problems in front of us. We have the threat from Islamists coming into the country. The Iranians this last week said they’re sending troves of men into Europe and the United States. They plan to do harm to our country. So, that’s a real issue. We still have great economic problems. We have environmental problems. These problems need the attention of Washington and Washington is broke. I think you know that. Our politicians don’t know how to work together and they’ve quit working together and they’re at each other’s throats. So, the only hope for our country really is real change and I think that can only come through men and women that look to God and are willing to bring God into the equation.”