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

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

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

"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."

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Reverend Billy Graham through the years
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Reverend Billy Graham through the years
THE WORLD OF BILLY GRAHAM -- Pictured: Reverend Billy Graham during a sermon (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE WORLDS'S GREATEST SHOWMAN: THE LEGEND OF CECIL B. DEMILLE -- Pictured: Rev. Billy Graham (Photo by NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
American evangelist Billy Graham (1918- ) was ordained as a Southern Baptist minister in 1939. He has travelled the world as an evangelist, authored several books, and heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. His crusades are widely televised. (Photo by � CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
American evangelist Billy Graham raises his hands and a Bible in the air, mid 1950s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Billy Graham, the evangelist, arrived in London tonight with his wife Ruth after his successful Scottish tour, 11th May 1955. (Photo by Charlie Ley/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Billy Graham, the evangelist, arrived in London tonight after his successful Scottish tour. One of the first people he met was his 22-year-old sister Jean Ford, wife of Rev. Leighton Ford, of South Carolina. Mrs Ford has only just arrived in this country and hopes to stay for three months, 11th May 1955. (Photo by Charlie Ley/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Former welterweight contender Billy Graham (left) presents a recording of his new song to the Reverend Billy Graham, May 27, at Madison Square Garden in New York. The former boxer wrote a semi-religious song called 'The Man.' This was the first meeting of the two Billy Grahams.
Evangelical minister Reverend Billy Graham (L) with his wife, Ruth,(R) and their 4 children: (R-L)Franklin, Virginia, Anne, and Ruth. (Photo By Ed Clark/The LIFE Premium Collection/Getty Images)
(AUSTRALIA OUT) Reverend Billy Graham speaking at his crusade at the Sydney Cricket Ground,10 May 1959. SMH Picture by GEORGE LIPMAN (Photo by Fairfax Media/Fairfax Media via Getty Images)
Evangelical minister Reverend Billy Graham holding his youngest daughter, Ruth. (Photo By Ed Clark/The LIFE Premium Collection/Getty Images)
Evangelical minister Reverend Billy Graham preaching at the height of tension over integration in Little Rock, Arkansas. (Photo By Francis Miller/The LIFE Premium Collection/Getty Images)
The Reverend Billy Graham sits next to President John F. Kennedy at a dinner. (Photo by � CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
The Reverend Billy Graham standing at a podium preaching with his arms raised and head back.
Portrait of American evangelist Billy Graham sitting on a chair, early 1960s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
(Original Caption) President Kennedy, Reverend Billy Graham (left) and Senator Frank Carlson, Republican-Kansas, (right) bow their heads in prayer during the Annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast today at the Mayflower Hotel. The breakfast was sponsored by the Interdenominational International Christian Leadership. Reverend Billy Graham made the main address.
Evangelist Rev. Billy Graham (L) greeting clergymen Rev. Peter Vaughn (C) and Rev. Don Rose (R) outside the Wesley Memorial Church. (Photo by Pierre Boulat/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Billy Graham's meeting at Earls Court, London, 30th June 1967. (Photo by Harry Fox/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Billy Graham took to the open-air today for a short meeting in Hyde Park adjacent to Speakers Corner, 1st July 1967. (Photo by David Johnson/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
396765 01: The Reverend BIlly Graham poses for a portrait 1968 in the U.S. The Rev. Graham (William Franklin Graham), an ordained Southern Baptist Minister, is known for his worldwide evangelistic crusades that resemble pop festivals. He is said to have preached about Jesus Christ to more people than any other person in history. (Photo by Getty Images)
circa 1970: Studio headshot portrait of American Protestant evangelist the Reverend Billy Graham. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Evangelist Dr Billy Graham is in England for Spree '73, Spiritual Re-Emphasis Week, to be held at Earls Court from Monday 27th August to Friday 31st August, and at Wembley Stadium Saturday 1st September. Spree '73 at Earls Court is for aid delegates taking part in a week's training. Dr Graham will be speaking each evening with Cliff Richard and others participating. Johnny Cash will participate at Wembley. Billy Graham is pictured at Lincoln's Inn Fields. Steel erectors from Woolwich, Harry Gerbutt and Wally Lodge, talk with Billy Graham in Lincolns Inn fields at lunchtime, 23rd August 1973. (Photo by Ron Burton/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Evangelist Dr Billy Graham is in England for Spree '73, Spiritual Re-Emphasis Week, to be held at Earls Court from Monday 27th August to Friday 31st August, and at Wembley Stadium Saturday 1st September. Spree '73 at Earls Court is for aid delegates taking part in a week's training. Dr Graham will be speaking each evening with Cliff Richard and others participating. Johnny Cash will participate at Wembley. 23rd August 1973. (Photo by Ron Burton/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 30: Evangelist Reverend Bill Graham greets thousands who came to hear him preach at Boston University's Nickerson Field in Boston on May 30, 1982. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
California Governor Ronald Reagan speaking while standing at podium as Reverend Billy Graham, Richard Nixon and wife Pat and Lyndon Johnson look on at Redwood National Park. (Photo by Julian Wasser/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
376986 03: Reverend Billy Graham preaches June 1979 in Nashville, TN. Graham is the leading spokesman for Christian Fundamentalism. (Photo by George Walker/Liaison)
54334 02: The Reverend Billy Graham reads with the congregation of the Beijing Protestant Church April 17, 1988 in Beijing, China. It is Graham's first time to visit China to speak to the Chinese. (Photo by Forrest Anderson/Liaison)
YORBA LINDA,CA - JUNE 25: Reverend Billy Graham and Former President Richard Nixon attend the Memorial Service for Patricia Nixon on June 23, 1993 at Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd/WireImage)
The Reverend Billy Graham speaks at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California November 18, 2004. The Greater Los Angeles Billy Graham Crusade, which will take place over four days, involves more than 1,400 churches representing 100 Christian denominations throughout Southern California. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith RG/CN
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney meets with Reverend Billy Graham (R) at his home in Montreat, North Carolina October 11, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS USA PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION RELIGION)
The Reverend Billy Graham (L) is joined by His Eminence William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore (C) and Orthodox Church of America Archbishop of Washington, Metropolitan Herman, during the 55th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington, January 21, 2005. U.S. President George W. Bush was joined by first lady Laura Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, and his wife, Lynne. REUTERS/Larry Downing LSD
Billy Graham gestures while attending a book signing for former U.S. President George W. Bush's new book "Decision Points" at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina December 20, 2010. REUTERS/Chris Keane (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS RELIGION)
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Billy Graham died on Wednesday morning at age 99. He achieved a reach unlike any other evangelist, serving as a counselor or minister to a dozen U.S. presidents.

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

"I kinda 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 different person, even though he was revered around the world and preached to an estimated 215 million people in 185 countries during his life, 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."

Graham's body will arrive at the Billy Graham Training Center in Asheville 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, Graham spokesperson Mark DeMoss said.

The body will lie in repose at the Graham Family Homeplace 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.

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