Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Evangelist Eagerly Awaits Crusade

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Evangelist Eagerly Awaits Crusade

Article excerpt

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Saying he feels strong after three months of medical rehab, evangelist Billy Graham returned home yesterday to the mountains he loves and said he is "thrilled and excited" about preaching at his November crusade in Jacksonville.

Friends said the 81-year-old evangelist looks and sounds stronger than he did in the months before he entered the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for surgery to treat fluid around his brain and monitoring of his Parkinson's condition.

Mayo doctors said in a news release they are pleased with his recovery.

"I'm strong. I've taken physical ed every day for the past month at 4 o'clock every day. I go to the gym. . . . My appetite is back," Graham said after landing at the Asheville Jet Center. "Now I can walk probably as well as I did 20 years ago. I can even jog a little."

He said he's been walking about a mile a day and even admitted swinging a golf club once or twice in his room while an outpatient at Mayo. His physical therapy will continue at his home in Montreat, near Asheville, with a therapist from Mayo.

Graham landed shortly after noon in a loaned Gulf Stream IV plane, walked down the steps on his own power, and repeatedly hugged and kissed his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, gently cradling her chin and tenderly holding her hand as she sat in her wheelchair on the tarmac. They hadn't seen each other since late July, though he said he called her every night at 7 while he was in Minnesota.

"We had a date every night while I was gone," he said.

His wispy white hair blowing in the breeze, he then hugged and kissed his daughter, Gigi Tchividjian, and later hoisted a huge Canada goose decoy the Mayo nurses gave him as a going-away present.

After briefly talking to reporters, it was on to lunch at one of Ruth Graham's favorite restaurants, where the couple was greeted with hugs by the staff and several patrons. He ate a London broil sandwich with cheese and mayonnaise.

Graham said he has been kept informed about preparations in Jacksonville and started preparing his sermons while in Minnesota. He is scheduled to preach all four nights of the crusade, Nov. …

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