President Obama had his first meeting with Rev. Billy Graham on Sunday, stopping at the Blue Ridge Mountains retreat of the 91-year old evangelist on his way to West Virginia to eulogize the 29 coal miners who died there.
"The President had a private prayer and conversation with Rev. Graham," said White House spokesman Bill Burton. "He is extraordinarily gratified that he took the time to meet with him."
Graham issued a statement after the meeting, saying ""I am pleased to have had President Obama in my home this afternoon. I want to encourage Christians everywhere to pray for our president and for all those in positions of authority and especially for the men and women serving in our military."
The Charlotte Observer
said Graham's son, Franklin, who also was on hand, said "Daddy reminisced a little bit about the first time he met a president, Truman. My father told the president that he stays out of politics (now). And the president said, 'I wish I could.' "
The Observer also quoted Graham spokesman Larry Ross as saying that Obama had told Graham, as have other chief executives, how lonely, demanding and humbling the presidency can be.
Obama had been supposed to meet Graham during the 2008 campaign when he was at a nearby resort preparing for a debate with Republican John McCain. But Graham, in frail health, was not well enough that day to meet Obama and the visit was put off. Obama did speak to Graham by telephone on his birthday last November.
During the call, they talked again about meeting and Obama, who had been on a getaway weekend with First Lady Michelle in nearby Asheville, made the 15 mile trip to Graham's Montreat home.
"Reverend Graham has obviously been an important spiritual leader for past presidents and for the American people for decades," said Burton. "He's a real treasure for our country. The president appreciates the opportunity to visit him at his home."
On Graham's health, Burton told reporters while Obama was inside that it "sounds like he's pretty good. Sounds like he's got some of the creaks that come with advancing age bu he's still as sharp as he ever was."
Graham, who suffers from failing eyesight and hearing, now has had meetings with 12 presidents including Obama and has been a frequent guest at the White House. Three former presidents -- Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton -- helped the evangelist dedicate the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C. in 2007.
Also present was Graham's son, Franklin, who has been in the midst of a controversy after the military rescinded an invitation
to him to attend a prayer service at the Pentagon.
The Pentagon disinvited the younger Graham because of remarks he made in 2001 describing Islam as evil. An Army spokesman called the remarks "not appropriate." The May 6 event was organized by the National Day of Prayer Task Force of which Graham is honorary co-chair. The task force coordinates the event with the Pentagon chaplain's office.
Franklin Graham said the subject came up during the visit and that Obama had said he'd look into it, but Graham didn't know if he would be re-invited, according to the Observer.