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George W Bush joins thousands paying respects to Rev Billy Graham

Mourners of all races, young and old, walked through the parlour of the famed evangelist’s boyhood home.

Thousands of people including a former president have filed slowly past the coffin of the Rev Billy Graham to pay final respects to a man who reached millions with his message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Heavy overnight rain tapered to a light, occasional drizzle on Monday morning when the doors opened to the boyhood home of the famed evangelist, who died on Wednesday aged 99.

The rain had stopped by late afternoon when former president George W Bush arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina, with his wife Laura.

George W Bush and Laura Bush walk past the Billy Graham Library (AP/Chuck Burton)

Mourners of all races, young and old, some in suits and some in T-shirts and flip-flops, walked through the parlour where Mr Graham’s closed coffin lay on a black pedestal.

They walked past family photos and a cross made of white lilies to see the simple plywood container made by prison inmates. At the door for the first few hours was Graham’s grandson Roy, shaking the hand of every person who came to see his grandfather.

“I just wanted to tell them how much I appreciated the love for my family,” he said.

They responded with stories. Roy Graham said what moved him the most were the dozens who paused and told him the exact moment and place Mr Graham came into their lives through his hundreds of crusades around the world.

Billy Graham

Mr Graham’s funeral is on Friday, and President Donald Trump said he will attend. Invitations were sent to all ex-presidents of the US.

Mr Bush said he chose Monday because he had a scheduling conflict with the funeral. He was greeted by Mr Graham’s son Franklin and spent about 30 minutes with the family during a private viewing.

“Laura and I are honoured to be able to come and pay our respects to the Graham family and, more importantly, to be able to say goodbye to a person who was influential in our lives and influential in the lives of millions,” Mr Bush told reporters afterwards.

He also brought condolences to the family from his father, George HW Bush, whom he described as a great friend of Mr Graham’s.

“I know he wished he could come too, but he’s not moving around much these days,” Mr Bush said.

Barack Obama is not planning to attend memorial services for Mr Graham this week, his office said.

Mr Obama tweeted last week that Mr Graham was “was a humble servant who prayed for so many — and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans”.

Public viewing will continue on Monday and Tuesday at Mr Graham’s Charlotte library on the campus of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. His body will then be taken to the US Capitol, where he will be the first private citizen to lie in honour there since civil rights hero Rosa Parks in 2005.

The funeral will be held in a giant tent as a nod to Mr Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles crusade.

He will be buried beside his wife Ruth, who died in 2007, at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway at the library in Charlotte.

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