Five years ago, the Rev. Billy Graham celebrated nine decades of life at an event hosted by The Greenbrier hotel in West Virginia. The prominent evangelist, who was in better health at the time, delivered a short speech and joked that he hoped the crowd would return for his 95th birthday party. Last night, many of them did.
The two-hour celebration was held a short distance from Graham’s home at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina. FoxNews.com reported last month that between 600 and 700 were expected to attend, but according to Mark Demoss, who handles publicity for Billy Graham’s organization, the guest list wound up north of 850.
Among those present were Donald Trump, Greta Van Susteren, Rupert Murdock, Chick-fil-A’s Dan Cathy, pastor Rick Warren, and Grammy-winner Michael W. Smith. Country singer Ricky Scaggs and “Today” show host Kathie Lee Gifford serenaded the evangelist from stage, and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin delivered a greeting.
“Billy Graham, we need you around another 95 years,” Palin said. “We need Billy Graham’s message to be heard, I think, today more than ever.”
But the majority of attendees were not famous; they were fans. They were united by an appreciation for Graham and his commitment to preach the message of salvation in Jesus Christ. An unprecedented 215 million people in over 185 countries have heard the preacher deliver a sermon. Graham has maintained friendships with every American president since Harry Truman and has been called “America’s pastor.”