Billy Graham's eldest daughter Gigi talks about her father
"We thought this would have been 10 years ago," the late Rev. Billy Graham's eldest daughter Gigi Graham said Thursday. "We did not know. We really didn't know."
Just 20 minutes before her father's casket arrived at The Cove Training Center that her father founded, Gigi Graham shared candid facts about her relationship with her father and his decline in recent days.
"I felt like a week ago, I just felt like there was something," she said, speaking lovingly of her father and expressing her deep gratitude to the many people who are making a pilgrimage to The Cove to pay tribute to her father's life and work celebrating Christ.
But she also spoke of the hardship his life's work, at times, had on the family and his children, who remained at home as he traveled the world spreading his message.
"Yes, I didn't have him as a child very much. But being here at the center and working at the center, I hear story, after story, after story of people's lives who've been changed," she said.
Gigi Graham, who works at The Cove as an ambassador welcoming visitors, thought it was important to have a family presence at the center, where so many people are coming this week to honor her father.
During her visits with her father, he was non-communicative. But, months before, she was able to stir him once to joke as she showered him with warm words, only a daughter can.
"I'd put my arms around him and say, 'Daddy, it's Gigi. And, I love you!' And I would hear nothing back."
She said she knew he couldn't respond, but she wouldn't give up. One day, she said, after staying for three hours she tried again before she had to go.
"I went one more time, 'Daddy, it's Gigi. Aren't you going to open those beautiful blue eyes and look at me?' And he replied, 'No!'" Gigi Graham laughed and smiled remembering how she felt when she realized her father knew she was in the room and jokingly responded.
Billy Graham's casket arrived at The Cove at 3:15 p.m. Thursday, where private services were being held Thursday night.
His body was transported from Morris Funeral Home in Asheville about 3 p.m. Thursday.
Many media outlets, from regional to national, were on scene covering the hearse's arrival to the Billy Graham Training Center.
Graham's eldest child, Gigi, was at The Cove's chapel, greeting visitors who came to pay their respects for the late evangelical leader.
Rev. Graham passed away on Wednesday morning at his home in Montreat. He was 99 years old.
On Saturday, his body will be transported to The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. There, he will lie in repose on Feb. 26 and 27. Then on Feb. 28 and March 1, Graham will lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
The funeral for Rev. Graham will be held Friday, March 2, outside of The Billy Graham Library. The service is private and by invitation only.
Graham grew up on his family's farm in Charlotte milking cows and turned into one of the world's most beloved and respected preachers.
Graham became the first preacher to reach millions with a new electronic pulpit. Most crusades, including one in Asheville in 1977, were filmed and videotaped for national broadcasts.
Graham left his impression on history through his contact with U.S. Presidents, from Truman to Obama, and heads of state around the world.