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Billy Graham 'would want to be remembered as a preacher,' son says

Franklin Graham, the son of "America's pastor," Billy Graham, said on NBC's "Today" that his father never saw himself as a celebrity and would want to be remembered as a preacher.

Billy Graham, famous for evangelizing crusades around the world and counseling U.S. presidents, always remembered his humble roots, his eldest son, Franklin Graham, said Thursday.

"He would want to be remembered as a preacher," Graham said in an exclusive interview on NBC's "Today."

"When my mother passed away, we knew what she wanted on her tombstone, so I asked my father — so there wouldn't be any argument among us children — I asked him, 'Daddy, what do you want to be on your tombstone?' And he thought about that and he said, 'Preacher,'" Graham said.

"That's what's going to be on his tombstone: preacher."

Billy Graham died on Wednesday morning at 99. He achieved a reach unlike any other evangelist, serving as a counselor or minister to a dozen U.S. presidents.

Franklin Graham said that when he heard the news of his father's death he was in disbelief, but not out of grief.

“I kind of chuckled because my father said years ago, 'When you hear that Billy Graham is dead don't you believe it for a second,' " Graham said. "He said: 'I'll be more alive than ever before.' "

"We rejoice because his suffering is over and he is in God’s presence."

He also said he and his family never saw his father as a celebrity, even though he was revered around the world and preached to an estimated 215 million people in 185 countries during his lifetime, with his message reaching millions more as he maintained a near-constant presence on radio, television and the internet.

"The Billy Graham that the world saw on TV or saw on the big screen was the same Billy Graham we saw at home. He wasn't two people," he said.

"My father was a very humble person. He never saw himself as a celebrity, he just always saw himself as a farm boy from Mecklenburg County."

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Graham's body will arrive at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville, North Carolina, on Thursday. On Saturday, a private family prayer service will take place and a motorcade will transport the body to the Billy Graham headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, Graham spokesman Mark DeMoss said.

The body will lie in repose with a closed casket from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on at least Monday and Tuesday, but that could be extended, he said. The private funeral service will be held on March 2 under a tent in front of the Billy Graham Library.